Crocheting the Hyperbolic Plane

Even if we weren’t homeschooling, I don’t think I could give up some of my HSing lists, because I’d miss out on things like this.

For God’s sake, please give it up. Fear it no less than the sensual passion, because it, too, may take up all your time and deprive you of your health, peace of mind and happiness in life.
–Wolfgang Bolyai (1775-1856) to his son János, urging him to give up work on non-Euclidean geometry

The crinkled edges of a lettuce leaf curve and expand in a shape that has perplexed mathematicians for centuries. Those curves—an example of a high-level geometry concept called the hyperbolic plane—were not even defined by geometry theorists until the 19th century. And in the almost 200 years following, mathematicians struggled to find a way to model the complex shape known as the geometric opposite of the sphere.

Then mathematician Daina Taimina picked up her crochet needles and some synthetic yarn, and the problem was solved. In 1997, Taimina, of Cornell University, found a way to crochet her way into “hyperbolic space.” Her woolen creations, which resemble crenulated flowers and hair scrunchies, became the first physical models of the hyperbolic plane.

Taimina and her husband, fellow Cornell mathematician David Henderson, are the co-authors of Experiencing Geometry, a widely used textbook on both Euclidean and non-Euclidean spaces. They talk to NPR’s Jacki Lyden about hyperbolic geometry and crochet.

Listen to the NPR interview

Another interview

Their own site, with patterns

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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