Hinke Osinga, Crocheting Mathematician

When I was about fifteen or sixteen, I was a math geek. I became entranced by the complex and strange geometries of fractals in James Gleick’s beautifully illustrated Chaos: Making a New Science. Mandelbrot sets showed up in screen prints for a while back in the late 80s — I recall coveting a fractal-printed hemp skirt from a little store in Margaret River.

Imagine my delight when I read in the Washington Post this morning about the crocheting project of Hinke Osinga and Bernd Krauskopf, two professors of mathematics at the University of Bristol. Together, they have produced a crocheted model of a Lorenz attractor.

The Lorenz attractor is a model of an equation which is originally based on modelling patterns of convection currents in the earth’s atmosphere.

Lorenz attractor

The equation is supposed to simulate the behaviour of a system — like weather — when numbers representing a given initial state are fed into the equation. It has two neat properties. First, it never settles down into a steady state — that’s what makes it chaotic — and second, very slight changes in the initial state result in big changes in the shape of the model. Because some versions of the model look like a butterfly’s wings, the Lorenz attractor is often used to illustrate the idea of the butterfly effect.

Osinga & Krauskopf have been working on the geometry of these systems, and Osinga, who is a crocheter, decided that the interlocking knot pattern of crochet was an ideal medium to produce a three-dimensional model of the equation.

Osinga's Lorenz Manifold

Their paper on the project (pdf) includes an appendix with detailed crocheting instructions, if you want to try it yourself. If you do so, tell them!

We would be thrilled to hear from anybody who produces another crocheted
model of the Lorenz manifold. As an incentive we offer a bottle of champagne to the person who produces model number three. So do get in touch when you are done with the needle work!

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