UC mathematicians get crafty around New Zealand

01 March 2017

Armed with knitting needles and origami paper, University of Canterbury mathematicians Dr Jeanette McLeod and Dr Phil Wilson are on a mission to bring maths to the masses.

  • McLeod Wilson Maths Craft sm

Armed with knitting needles and origami paper, University of Canterbury mathematicians Dr Jeanette McLeod and Dr Phil Wilson are on a mission to bring maths to the masses, through craft. 

Following the success of their inaugural 2016 Maths Craft Festival, which entertained almost 2,000 people at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, the team has been awarded $120,000 from the Unlocking Curious Minds fund to take Maths Craft on the road.

University of Canterbury (UC) Mathematics and Statistics academics Dr McLeod and Dr Wilson, together with UC PhD student Sarah Mark and Dr Nicolette Rattenbury of the University of Auckland, will be touring New Zealand cities this year, raising interest in maths through their quirky brand of maths outreach. 

Using the government grant, they aim to introduce people to mathematical concepts by demonstrating the way these ideas are intertwined with crafts. The mathematicians will invite people to join them to learn how to knit a mathematical knot, crochet a Möbius strip, fold an origami tetrahedron, or colour a Latin square, and experience mathematics in a whole new way.

UC Senior Lecturer Dr McLeod, who has knitted and crocheted various mathematical objects, from Möbius strips to intricate coral-like hyperbolic planes, is keen to share her passion for maths as the language of science. While she’s usually dealing with combinatorics; in particular asymptotic enumeration, Latin squares, graph colouring and random graphs, she’s also an accomplished crafter and crocheter.

“The idea began after a serendipitous encounter with Dr Julia Collins from the University of Edinburgh who was on holiday in Christchurch early last year,” she says.

“We are both avid knitters and crocheters and we wanted to find a way to share the beautiful mathematics behind craft with the public. This inspired the 2016 Maths Craft Festival.”

This year, in addition to the Maths Craft Festival in Auckland scheduled for the weekend of 9 - 10 September, there will be events in Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington. Through these events, the UC academics will show people how maths underpins almost every aspect of today’s society.

Dr Wilson, also a Senior Lecturer in UC’s School of Mathematics and Statistics, is more usually found working in theoretical fluid dynamics and mathematical modelling in biology and industry.

“I love explaining the fun and excitement of mathematics to all sorts of audiences, from school kids to lifelong knitters,” he says.

“It’s amazing seeing people realise that maths is everywhere. Whether it’s crafts, technology, business, science, social science or education, maths is vital.”

The academics say that maths is often overlooked as a subject of beauty and imagination, with many people viewing it as boring, irrelevant, and downright unpleasant. However, by using craft as a medium, these mathematicians plan to introduce adults and children alike to a new way of engaging with mathematics.

Unlocking Curious Minds is a cross-agency programme of work led by MBIE, the Ministry of Education and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor. Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith announced the funding in February.

Visit the Maths Craft website: www.mathscraftnz.org

For further information please contact:
Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168 | margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
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