By | Alexandra McLaughlin ’16

“It was really remarkable to see a concept which to me is mathematically beautiful expressed in a way that is appreciable to anyone who sees it.”                           —Lucas Gagnon ’16 

Can math be beautiful? George Hart thinks so. An applied mathematician and professional sculptor, Hart helped the Macalester community see the beauty in mathematical thinking. On March 22, stacks of baltic birch plywood sat on a table in the Smail Gallery of Olin-Rice Science Center. Macalester students had cut out the 60 identically shaped pieces over the month of January.

Math major Lucas Gagnon ’16 (Ithaca, N.Y.) took a special interest in the event; his honors project is related to the math Hart used in making the sculpture. Yet the event “drew a fairly diverse crowd,” Gagnon said, “not just the mathiest of the math majors.” As students counted and arranged the pieces, curious onlookers paused to take in the scene. Within a few minutes, a crowd of about 25 people had gathered; a sense of anticipation in the air.

Hart did not disappoint. Within three hours, he and the students had assembled a highly symmetric five-foot diameter sculpture using cable ties and the help of many hands.

“While it might seem easy to just tie pieces of wood together, the geometric arrangement of everything was really complicated, to the point where some people had the role of figuring out where things went, while others would do the work of physically connecting them,” Gagnon said.

Some people stopped by to put together a few pieces while others simply asked questions and watched. Facilities Services hung the sculpture in the middle of Smail Gallery.

Later in the day, Hart discussed his work with mathematically informed sculptures. Using mediums such as metal, wood, and plastic, Hart uses computer technology, laser-cutting, and 3D-printing to design and create sculptures. His artwork has been displayed around the world.

A professor at Stony Brook University, Hart earned a BS in mathematics and a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT. He organizes the annual Bridges Conference on mathematics and art and serves as an editor for the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts. Hart also co-founded the Museum of Mathematics in New York City, the only museum in North America dedicated to mathematics.  

Gagnon was struck by Hart’s ability to make math accessible. “It was really remarkable to see a concept which to me is mathematically beautiful expressed in a way that is appreciable to anyone who sees it,” Gagnon said.

March 30 2016

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