About Mathemalchemy: A Comic Book Adventure in Math and Art

Page comic book by Jay and Max Hosler

A wonderful interpretation by Jay Hosler and Max Hosler

From June until December 2023, the Mathemalchemy installation was hosted by the Art Museum of Juniata College, where Mathemalchemist Kim Roth is a member of the Mathematics faculty. For this occasion, she asked her friend Jay Hosler whether he would be willing to draw an illustration or maybe even a strip of a few panels that would be Mathemalchemy-themed: apart from his day job as a distinguished professor in Biology at Juniata College, dr. Hosler is also an acclaimed science comic writer who has published several graphic novels (available from any good book store) as well as many wonderful shorter web comics centering on and explaining matters biological as well as comical (see jayhosler.com/science-comics). His son Max Hosler was then just completing his math major at the College of Wooster; he enthusiastically seconded the notion, and they started brainstorming.

Fueled by the enthusiasm of Max and Jay the project grew, from an illustration to a 2-page and then 4-page comic, and then grew some more – until it reached the full-fledged 36-page length that you can find here.

Their initiative was enthusiastically embraced by all 24 Mathemalchemists – it was a wonderful new direction of the whole Mathemalchemical universe, providing a back story for two of the Silhouettes standing around the landscape – previously they were known only as the Child and the Adult Mathematician, but in the comic they have come alive as Emmy (named in tribute to Emmy Noether) and her Mother, a mathematician (of course). Trying to help her mother’s efforts to understand a map of Mathemalchemy, Emmy unwittingly opens up a magical wormhole and lands in the middle of the Mathemalchemy world; the comic chronicles some of her further adventures.

A first printing was offered for sale at the January 2023 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Boston, and sold out within days. A few months later, Mathemalchemist Ingrid Daubechies‘s brother Frederic Daubechies translated the texts into Dutch; Jay and Max turned the original files into a master template for translators, and inserted this first translated text. Printed copies of the resulting Dutch version, titled Mathemalchemy: Een Wiskunstelijk Stripverhaal were handed out to all the participants (and their supporters) in the 12th Wiskunnend Wiske mathematical puzzles contest, held at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, Belgium, on pi-day, March 14 2023. A digital version of the Dutch translation is posted here.

The success of the Dutch version inspired further translations. Mathematical physicist Christine De Mol prepared a French translation, (with some help from Ingrid and Frederic Daubechies); it was ready just in time for the opening of the Mathemalchemy exhibit at the Beaty Museum of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, at the start of April 2023. A digital version of Mathemalchemy: Une aventure mathémartistiue en B.D. can be downloaded here.

As part of the international celebration of Women in Mathematics on the 12th of May 2023, the Italian Mathematical Society and the Mathematics Department of the Sapienza University in Rome organized a special event for high school students with several lectures on connections between art and mathematics. It included a presentation on the Mathemalchemy installation; to mark the occasion, a translation into Italian of the web comic book was prepared. Mathematicians Claudia Malvenuto (Sapienza Università, Rome), Chiara de Fabritiis (Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona) and Barbara Nelli (Università degli Studi dell’Aquila) translated the texts from the English original; Veronica Barba took on the digital typesetting task of placing and fitting the texts in the “bubbles”. Thanks to their conjoined effort the web comic was ready just in time for its launch, on May 12, on the MaddMaths webiste of the Italian Mathematical Society. A digital version of Matemalchimia: un’avventura fra matematica e arte can be downloaded here as well.

To coincide with the return to the US of the Mathemalchemy installation, a new translation was prepared, this time into Spanish. We are grateful to Maia Szulik, an Argentina-born Bilingual Research Data Scientist at the Center for Child & Family Policy at the Sanford School of Duke University, who volunteered to translate the full web comic — thank you, Maia! After Maia finished her work, mathematicians Malena Espanol (Arizona State University) and Orsola Capovilla-Searle (UC Davis) did a second pass, in particular to edit mathematical terms. Finally, Wilkins Aquino (Mechanical Engineering, Duke) and his wife Carmen, as well as Malena and Orsola, were of great help to the puffins, helping them find the right words to express themselves in Spanish. Thanks to all their efforts, ‘Matemalquimia: Una aventura y libro de historiets en matemática y arte’ was ready by the Thanksgiving weekend, just after the exhibit opened in Northern Kentucky University for a five-month visit.