Corals, Carbon and the Cosmos

Jan 14 Thu
Public Lecture - AMSI
6:00 - 7:00pm @ RMIT, Melbourne, Australia



IFF Director Margaret Wertheim is giving a public lecture for the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, titled Corals, Carbon and the Cosmos: The Story of Hyperbolic Space. 

Event date: January 14, 2016, 6-7pm

Place: RMIT, SAB Building 80, Swanston Street, Melbourne, Australia

AMSI event webpage

AMSI event_PDF

Throughout the natural world – in corals, cactuses, sea-slugs and lettuce leaves – we see swooping, curving and crenelated forms. All these are biological manifestations of hyperbolic geometry an alternative to the Euclidean geometry we learn about in school. While nature has been playing with permutations of hyperbolic space for hundreds of millions of years, human mathematicians spent centuries trying to prove that such forms were impossible. The discovery of hyperbolic geometry in the nineteenth century helped to usher in a mathematical revolution, giving rise to new ways of mapping and analyzing curved surfaces. Such “non-Euclidean geometry,” now underlies the general theory of relativity and thus our understanding of the universe as a whole.

If the cosmos may be a hyperbolic manifold, at the molecular level carbon atoms can assemble into hyperbolic lattices, giving rise to exotic new materials. Meanwhile, on the Great Barrier Reef, the corals making hyperbolic structures are being threatened by global warming and the human deluge of carbon into our oceans. In this multifacted talk bridging the domains of mathematics and culture, science writer and exhibition curator Margaret Wertheim will discuss the story of hyperbolic space. How do hyperbolic forms arise in nature, in technology, and in art? And what might we learn about alternative possibilities for being from a mathematical discovery that redefined our concept of parallel lines.

This talk is being presented in conjunction with AMSI’s annual post-graduate Summer School at RMIT.