24 December 2006

Practical maths: stick to your knitting

An odd comment by Hinke Osinga’s partner, mathematician Bernd Krauskopf, led her to think about her crotcheting, and realise that she “could crochet the Lorenz manifold,” which led her & others towards representing mathematical figures with stitching work of various kinds.

“Knitting and crocheting are helping us think about math we already know in a different light,” [said] Carolyn Yackel, a mathematician at Mercer University

As Daina Taimina geared up to teach an undergraduate-geometry class as a visiting mathematician at Cornell University, she realised that she had no model for a hyperbolic surface, just for flat & 3D — so she crocheted one. By adding a new stitch every few rows, she was able to produce a hyperbolic plane. David Henderson helped her to prove that the woollen model was indeed hyperbolic.

Knitting a mathematical shape may strike you as odd, but David Hilbert proved that it’s literally impossible to build a smooth model of a hyperbolic surface because of the way it buckles, so crocheting turns out to be well suited to the task.

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