Crochet, Coral Reefs and Complex Mathematics

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Tune in to ABC online if you haven't heard this recent episode of the Science Show. 

The Science Show program broadcast on Saturday 16 July 2016 featured the amazing story of twin sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim. A few years ago, they started working on a crochet of a single coral. The project evolved, was picked up by various museums around the world and is now part of a world-wide project that engages communities and draws attention to the threats to reefs from climate change. 

Margaret Wertheim is a scientist and science writer, and she uses crochet as a way to bring complex geometry to life, as she explains on the crochet coral reef website:

"The inspiration for making crochet reef forms begins with the technique of "hyperbolic crochet" discovered in 1997 by Cornell University mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina. The Wertheim sisters adopted Dr Taimina's techniques and elaborated upon them to develop a whole taxonomy of reef-life forms. Loopy "kelps", fringed "anemones", crenelated "sea slugs", and curlicued "corals" have all been modeled with these methods. The basic process for making these forms is a simple pattern or algorithm, which on its own produces a mathematically pure shape, but by varying or mutating this algorithm, endless variations and permutations of shape and form can be produced. The Crochet Reef project thus becomes an on-going evolutionary experiment in which the worldwide community of Reefers brings into being an ever-evolving crochet "tree of life." 

It is a truly mind-bending project and it just goes to show how the application of creative thinking, art, craft and community cooperation can change our understanding of the world. 

Margaret Wertheim also presented a great TED talk where she demonstrates how using a crochet technique invented by Cornell University mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina helps our understanding of the hyperbolic geometry underlying coral creation. 


Keen to be part of this project? Find out more at

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