Since joining the Mathemalchemy project, I have found myself discussing questions that I never could have anticipated asking previously—questions like “why would a tortoise use a backpack to transport tessellating cookies, instead of using a wagon?” and “yes, but what is the chipmunks’ motivation?” I have relished the unexpected sentences the team has generated over the past year as much as I’ve enjoyed generating new ceramic work to inhabit Mathemalchemy’s imaginative math-inspired realm.
One of the mathematical scenes that I’ve been involved with is the lighthouse. The top of the lighthouse will have two lights – one projecting horizontally from within a stained glass dodecahedron made by Bronna Butler, and the other projecting up on the the ceiling.
This will repurpose an old project of mine illustrating something called stereographic projection. Stereographic projection is a map from the sphere to the plane. So just like the Mercator map is a way of getting the continents of the globe on a flat piece of paper, stereographic projection is another way to do that.
Mathemalchemy being a celebration of mathematics and beauty, origami was a natural fit to express geometric fantasies in our art installation.
During the last year, my Mathemalchemy’s teammates and I have played with shapes, concepts and colors to “unfold” our imaginary realm. It was, and continues to be, a fabulous and fulfilling adventure.
It is always snowing over Riemann-Lebesgue Hill. This snow is likely a bit different from what you see falling in your neighborhood. The snowflakes in the Mathemalchemy exhibit are formed using mathematics and lasers.
The Chimpunks Sorting Primes Vignette in a way expresses my path in mathematics which went from a blind acceptance of facts – here’s a formula, plug and chug, and it will work – to understanding that mathematics is a human endeavor, one where we can create the rules and see how it evolves.
I think about knots a lot these days, and I think about how complicated those knots are. My work involves knots, and knots within knots. The fanciful sea creatures I’m crocheting are a variant of knots called theta curves.
Let me begin, somewhat circularly, by quoting myself:
“I like symmetry. Or, to be more precise, I like symmetries.
You see, I’m a mathematician, and mathematicians find patterns everywhere. We can’t help ourselves. We don’t just admire things that are symmetric, we ask questions about how they are symmetric. By a mirror reflection, like a face? By a rotation, like a pinwheel? By a translation (repetition in a straight line), like a row of toy soldiers? By a glide reflection, like footprints in the sand?”
When you first saw Mathemalchemy, what struck you the most? Let’s guess it’s the two arches showing balls (spheres) of different sizes. Although the spheres in both arches become arbitrarily small, the spheres in one arch extend indefinitely, crashing into the ocean and plummeting into its depths. The spheres in the other arch approach a single point in space—that arch does not grow without bound.
These arches serve the artistic purpose of adding color to the vertical elements of the piece. In early versions of the project, they were important as drawing the eye to the highest point of the east side of the work. The arches continue to serve as a physical connection between the large sheet that honors five women mathematicians and the surrounding ocean, but also communicate a fundamental principle in mathematics.
Mathemalchemy’s beacon reflects a 2020 mathematical breakthrough.
Mathematicians Jayadev Athreya, David Aulicino and Patrick Hooper recently proved that there are an infinite number of straight paths on the dodecahedron that start at one vertex, proceed in a straight path around the Platonic solid, and return to the starting vertex without passing through any other vertices.
Bronna Butler, professional artist, math lover and Mathemalchemy team member, demonstrates how her stained glass creation illustrates one of the infinitely many dodecahedral trajectories.
About a year ago, I was lucky to have attended Ingrid’s and Dominique’s presentation at the JMM where they introduced their proposal for Mathemalchemy. I immediately offered my support, but admitted that I did not feel qualified to join the group. After all, I am a mathematician, not an artist. Dominique assured me that I’d be welcome, but I remained uncertain. I even drafted an email later that night thanking her for the opportunity, but assuring her that she was mistaken to allow me to join this team. Thankfully, I hit delete instead of send!
When people ask me what number theory (my research area) is, we invariably end up talking about primes. I tell them about how I love to see patterns and make connections, how number theory in particular has problems that are simple to understand, but lead to deep and complex theories. These themes are visible in the three representations of primes in the garden.
Discover the mathematical inspiration underpinning the creation of the Mandelbrot Bakery.
One of Marjorie Rice’s tilings, symmetry, Vladimir Arnold’s cat, dynamical systems and many more mathematical concepts are represented in this charming bakery.
Dominique Ehrmann introduced the Mathemalchemy team members to her Maquette Creation Process. See how the three maquettes helped to create, discuss, question, structure, validate and inspire them.
When Dominique asked for proposals for Mathemalchemy scenes, I sent her a proposal like this: “Something involving infinity . . . Something involving infinity . . . Zeno’s path (related to Zeno’s dichotomy paradox), a hill whose volume is approximated with cuboids, Koch snowflakes.”
Dominique’s response was polite: “I see that I have not communicated clearly what is needed. I am looking for stories.” Oh, a story! I thought, I can write a story! And so, having chosen a tortoise as a protagonist (a nod to Zeno’s Achilles paradox), I sent Dominique the following tale.