Gravity Waves, Spacetime, and Crochet

The Nobel Prize in physics for 2017 has been awarded to scientists who detected gravity waves, a long awaited discovery deeply deserving of science's highest honor. Coincidently, just before the Nobel was announced, I was interviewed for the NPR program To the Best of Our Knowledge by host Anne Strainchamps where we discussed the mathematics of spacetime – including gravity waves – and the prospect of crocheting the universe. The interview aired nationally in the US on Oct 7 and can be heard here. Titled Is the Universe A Number?, this episode of the beloved NPR show is devoted to explorations of mathematics and its relationship to nature and culture. Along with me discussing hyperbolic geometry and handicraft, is the Israeli mathematician Shlomo  Maital talking about the Kaballah, and former Nobel prize winner Franck Wilczek discussing his delightful book A Beautiful Equation, about physicists' search for beauty in the laws of nature, which I reviewed here in the Washington Post.

The image below of a beautiful crocheted "hyperbolic plane" reveals an unexpected connection between crochet and gravity waves. Here, the ripples in the model result from the fact that the surface isn't flat, as described by the Euclidean geometry we learn about in school, but is curved in the characteristic manner of hyperbolic space. This gorgeous effect is achieved simply by increasing stitches in a regular fashion to produce ruffles, which at the same time produces a model of what mathematicians call "negative curvature" geometry. Gravity waves are also deviations from flatness in space; in this case, they're ripples in spacetime which undulate out from such cataclysmic events as two black holes colliding. Gravity waves can in theory exist in any of the three basic geometries – Euclidean, spherical and hyperbolic – and one of the great questions on physics today is which one of these structures does the large-scale structure of the universe emulate. Whichever space is rippling, the ripples themselves are curves in the the fabric of that space. So if god is a mathematician, then perhaps He/She/It is also a crocheter.

 Crochet model of the hyperbolic plane made by Anitra Menning, based on the method of hyperbolic crochet discovered by Dr. Daina Taimina at Cornell University..

Crochet model of the hyperbolic plane made by Anitra Menning, based on the method of hyperbolic crochet discovered by Dr. Daina Taimina at Cornell University..

This story is also posted on Medium.