Monday, July 19, 2010

Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef

This is one of those super-cool things that made me want to start writing about science-y things in the first place. I can't believe I neglected it for so long!

The Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef is a world-wide collaboration that combines aesthetics, environmentalism, and mathematics. It is exactly what it sounds like: a coral reef made out of crochet. And it is awesome. It is one of those ideas you will wish you had.
The Reef consists mostly of corals and anemones crocheted out of multi-colored yarn of various textures, but has also grown to incorporate a variety of elements, including sea slugs, jellyfish, bits of garbage, and bleached corals of delicate lace. It is owned by the Institute for Figuring, but is contributed to by crocheters from all over and travels to museums and universities across the globe to spread awareness of our dying reefs.

The website for the Institute for Figuring attributes the crochet pattern to Daina Taimina, an adjunct associate professor of mathematics at Cornell University and oft professor of various geometries that sound terribly impressive. The story goes that in 1997, while on a camping trip with her husband, she was pondering how to model hyperbolic space (as one does). During this ponderance, she recalled the paper models created by the topologist and Fields Medalist William Thurston. (According to Wikipedia, Dr. Thurston is quite the topological superstar.) For whatever reason, it occurred to her that she could mimic these models, and possibly expand on them, using crochet. Which she did.

I'm not sure how this discovery ended up in New Scientist, but it did, and the sisters at the Institute for Figuring ran with it. I love this project because it seems like a fresh, truly unique way of bringing science education to the public without being preachy or obnoxious. It allows non-science people and scientists alike to contribute. There's a likeness in form such that you know what you're looking at, but no one's entry is going to be rejected because a coral expert says it's inaccurate. 

With the barrage of mainstream nature documentaries that have been released the past few years (Planet Earth, Life), it is obvious that there is a market for these kinds of creations. And of course, as a scientist and generally responsible human, I am thankful for these efforts. I don't want species to go extinct, I don't want rain forests to be destroyed, I want evolution to be universally accepted, etc. Not to mention that some of the footage in these documentaries is unbelievably striking and total science porn. However, after seeing Dolphins and Whales at the IMAX this weekend, I'm starting to grow a bit annoyed. And I imagine the public is as well.

I don't think it's unreasonable or counterproductive or ignorant to ask the environmentalism angle to be toned down. If I had a nickel for every time Daryl Hannah told me a species was decreasing in numbers and we can save them if we really want to, I'd have ELEVENTY NICKELS. Sometimes I just want to watch the damn dolphins make clicky noises, okay? I get that animals are dying. I get that a lot of it is our fault. I GET IT. Maybe "toned down" isn't the right request. Re-directed? Re-phrased? Is all the enviro-preaching during animal documentaries doing any good? Should it be more about practical measures we can take as individuals instead of the elusive "if we don't do something soon" warning? Should they pass out Pocket Guides that tell you which fish are ethically raised so you don't contribute to overfishing? I don't know. I just know that about two-thirds of the way through Dolphins and Whales, I turned to my husband and whispered, "What does she know? She's a mermaid!"

Man, legs are so awesome.

As beautiful as some of Discovery Channel's productions are, and as honorable as their cause is, I would like to see more projects like the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. Another example of science education that is cool, entertaining, and doesn't make me roll my eyes and groan is Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno series that she did with the Sundance Channel. Love.


  1. and i'm sorry that comment was so irrelevant to the rest of your post (blush) it was the last thought i had because the image was so close to the end...

    my daughter and i just watched The Ocean and were blown away..

  2. Should there be another persuasive post you can share next time, I’ll be surely waiting for it. live coral