A decade ago when they started the Crochet Coral Reef project, Christine and Margaret Wertheim joked that if the Great Barrier Reef ever died out, the crochet reef would be something to remember it by. New research compiled by the international agency Climate Analytics now warns that indeed most coral reefs won’t survive a 2˚C rise in temperature, and the world is on target to break that limit. If reefs are to make it through, the researchers say, humans need to restrict global warming to no more than 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels, which, they note, would at least allow “some chance for a fraction of the world’s coral reefs to survive.” 1.5˚C is probably an impossible goal, requiring carbon emissions to peak by the end of this decade then radically decline, with a future “carbon budget” of just 250 billion tonnes of CO2. That’s approximately six years worth of our present emissions. This sobering news comes as the IFF is preparing for our Crochet Coral Reef: Toxic Seasexhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design in NY, opening September 15, 2016. The historic photo above was one of the Wertheim’s first handicraft reefs, dating to 2006, just as scientists were beginning to link reef degradation to climate change.
Physics, religion and South Park
Sometimes things go awry. Especially on South Park, the belovedly irreverent cartoon series, of which we at the IFF are fans. How delightful to see that this hilarious Wisecrack video about the representation of religion in South Park features a discussion of IFF director Margaret Wertheim’s book “Pythagoras’ Trousers”, which posits a history of the relationship between physics and religion. Plus you get an animation of Margaret and South Park creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, doing a googly-eyed dance together.
Crochet Coral Reef in e-flux
In an insightful article in e-flux magazine Rebekah Sheldon discusses the Crochet Coral Reef project as an exemplar of the recent interest among feminist and queer studies scholars in moving away from universal theorizations towards acknowledgement of the epistemic power of the particular. Entitled “Queer Universal,” Sheldon’s piece hails the virtues of attending to such “particular forms of life” as “lightning, atoms, jellyfish … extinct aurochs, wooly coral reefs … and transgender frogs.” The IFF is delighted to find ourselves in such company, both on the page and behind it. Sheldon’s article draws also on a recent essay about the Crochet Coral Reef project by trans-studies theorist Jeanne Vaccaro “Feelings and Fractals: Wooly Ecologies of Transgender Matter” published in the journal GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies.
About the author: Rebekah Sheldon, an assistant professor in the English Department at Indiana University Bloomington, is a scholar of feminist philosophy, queer theory, the new realisms, and contemporary American literature, culture, and popular rhetoric.
Science Show with Robyn Williams
On the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s beloved Science Show with Robyn Williams, IFF director Margaret Wertheim speaks about corals, carbon and the cosmos. Thanks for a lovely interview with reporter Alexandra de Blas.
American Association of Physics Teachers Award
IFF Director Margaret Wertheim has been awarded the 2016 Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award by the American Association of Physics Teachers. On July 18, 2016, Margaret will deliver her lecture at the AAPT’s annual meeting in Sacramento. This is the first time since 2006 the award has been given to a woman. Previous honorees include Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randal (2006), Lee Smolin (former director of the Perimeter Institute and the inventor of loop quantum gravity, an alternative to string theory) and Neil de Grasse Tyson (director of the Hayden Planetarium).
About the Klopsteg Award Named for Paul E. Klopsteg, a former President and long-time member of AAPT, the Klopsteg Memorial Lecture Award recognizes outstanding communication of the excitement of contemporary physics to the general public.
World Ocean Day
Today is World Ocean Day, and the IFF salutes marine life everywhere. This picture shows corals growing around plastic trash on a pier at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, an elegiac reminder of the stresses these wondrous organisms are facing and the need for us all to confront our run-away use of plastic. This Fall, the IFF’s Crochet Coral Reef project will be exhibited at the Museum of Arts and Design in NY, with a specially curated focus on plastic trash and coral bleaching.
On Being a Woman in Science
IFF Director Margaret Wertheim writes: “Given the many stories that have been coming out recently about sexual harassment of young women in science, I decided to write a piece about my own experiences with this. It’s out now in AEON. This is the first time I’ve publicly discussed what caused me to leave academic science. Since then I’ve spent 35 years as a science writer, author and exhibition curator, trying to find ways to make the public representation of science more sensitive to, and appealing to women. My work with the Crochet Coral Reef project results from this impulse, as did the columns I wrote for 10 years about science and technology for Australian women’s magazines such as Vogue and Elle.”
The “Bleached Reef” by the Institute For Figuring. Photographed at the exhibition “Night Begins the Day” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, 2015.
The world’s coral reefs are experiencing the largest bleaching episode ever recorded. Rising water temperatures are now threatening more than a third of the Earth’s reefs and coral experts say it is possible reefs may be gone in 25 years. The effects of the current El Nino (making the last 2 years the hottest on record), are being compounded by underlying global warming and other anomalous climate events. Hardest hit has been the Great Barrier Reef. During a recent aerial survey of 520 sub-reefs in its northern section, scientists at Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force found that only 4 showed no sign of bleaching. More than 600 miles of the GBR’s previous glory has been turned into aquatic boneyards. [See photo essay.] “This has been the saddest research trip of my life,” says Task Force convener Professor Terry Hughes.
In this time of urgency, the IFF’s Crochet Coral Reef project remains ever-more timely; a synthesis of art and science that also calls attention to the potency of community-based action. In Fall 2016 the Crochet Coral Reef will be on exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design in NY. Included will be our Bleached Reef, a feminine handicraft elegy to the currently unfolding environmental tragedy.
Crocheted strawberry anemones (by Margaret Wertheim) nestling in the “Bleached Reef” by the Institute For Figuring. Photographed at the exhibition “Night Begins the Day: An Exploration of Space, Time and Wonder” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, 2015.
Christina Simons and Jake Dotson constructing “Fractal Ruin” at the Institute For Figuring, Los Angeles, April 2016.
The IFF has begun construction on a new business card origami fractal sculpture for a forthcoming exhibition at Mass-MoCA entitled Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Wonder. We are inspired here by the pioneering work of Dr. Jeannine Mosely, inventor of business card origami and the leading practitioner of fractal paper folding. By experimenting with Dr. Mosely’s techniques we are bringing into being an object that shimmers at the boundary of mathematics and nature, a structure whose spine is based on fractional geometric principles and whose flesh is being “grown” organically as we progress. The IFF’s previous collaboration with Dr. Mosely was the construction of giant Mosely Snowflake Sponge Fractal at the USC Libraries.
It’s turning into an exciting week for spheres. In a tour de force of abstract thinking, mathematicians have finally proved how to best pack spheres in 24-dimensional space. We all know this problem in 3 dimensions: What’s the best way to stack oranges? In 1611, Johannes Kepler speculated that the pyramidal stacking used by grocers was the optimal arrangement, but it took until 1998 for that to be proved. Since then mathematicians have wondered about optimal sphere-packing in higher dimensions. They know the answer for 2 and 3 dimensions, but this is a hard problem to generalize. Some years ago it was speculated that in 8 dimensions the answer could be found in the structure of a glorious object known as the E8 lattice. Now Maryna Viazovska at Humboldt University in Berlin has proved this is optimal. By extending her work, Viazovska and a colleague were also able to deduce the answer for 24 dimensions, which involves one of E8’s cousins. Nobody knows why 8 and 24 dimensions are so elegant and special. 24 dimensional sphere-packing has applications in wireless communications, particularly involving spacecraft where signals are faint and noisy, so there is a link here to the cosmos itself. The IFF is delighted by these developments: in 2009, IFF director Margaret Wertheim wrote about E8 and its cousin “the monster symmetry group” in this article for Cabinet magazine.
In other rotund news, we draw readers attention to this video demonstration of hikaru dorodango, the ancient Japanese craft of making perfect spheres out of dirt. Here, artist Bruce Gardner shows how. Mud meets math, a meticulous fusion of the mundane and the sublime.