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Bridges 2012: Highlights of the Conference on Mathematics Connections in Art, Music, and Science

The 2012 International conference of Bridges: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music and Science was held at Towson University, Maryland, July 25-29.

The conference drew mathematicians, scientists, artists, educators, musicians, writers, computer scientists, sculptors, dancers, weavers and model builders from around the world. The five-day program included plenary talks, sessions, workshops, art gallery, performances, a Family Day, and exhibits. The American Mathematical Society provided copies of the 2013 Calendar of Mathematical Imagery to the participants.

Towson Center for the Arts

Towson University President Maravene Loeschke and Bridges President Reza Sarhangi (Towson University, and founder of the first Bridges conference in 1998) welcomed all the participants, and George Hart, Craig Kaplan, Robert Bosch, Doug McKenna and Carlo Séquin -- among others -- introduced speakers and chaired sessions. Below is just a sampling of some of the many highlights of the wide-ranging, fascinating and congenial conference, along with some slideshows that give a glimpse of the beauty and mathematical substance of the presentations. The program is online, and details of the research of presenters can be found on their websites.

"These are the BIG IDEAS of mathematical art: Art can describe/represent mathematics. Mathematics can create art... visual art,music, performing arts. Mathematics makes us better artists." --- Mike Naylor, in his presentation, "The Mathematical Art of Juggling: Using Mathematics to Predict, Describe and Create"

Day One

Immediately following the Welcoming Remarks the conference kicked off with "Science, Art, Beauty, the Meaning of Life, and the James Webb Telescope," a talk by Nobel Prize laureate John Mather (Physics, 2006), "Celebrating Mathematics in Stone and Bronze: Umbilic Torus NC vs SC," by Helaman Ferguson and Claire Ferguson, and the grand opening of the Art Exhibition, hosted by Craig Kaplan.

The Art Exhibition is, as usual, a highlight of the conference, where people can study works from all angles and discuss the pieces with the artists and colleagues.

Afternoon sessions covered architecture, periodic tilings, tessellations, geometric art, labyrinths, choreography, lace-making, houndstooth patterns, weaving, ropes, poetry, literary inspirations, tune and rhyme, beading, tanagrams and projecting curves wtih laser light. The Bridges 2012 Public Lecture in the evening was "Picasso, Space, Time, Guernica," by Javier Barrallo, Professor of Mathematics at The University of the Basque Country in San Sebastián, Spain.

Day Two

Sessions covered "From Möbius Bands to Klein-Knottles," by Carlo Séquin, "Sculpture in S3," by Henry Segerman (one of many individuals working with 3-D printers), music, dance, "Geometric Dissection Puzzles," by Yahan Zhou and Rui Wang, training teachers, book-page design, Navajo weavings, molecular visualizations, figure skating, and a surprise father-daughter presentation by George Hart and Vi Hart.

Day Three

Bridges organizers arranged for participants to go on a field trip to Baltimore. The first stop was the Walters Art Museum, where the group was given an exclusive presentation on the Archimedes Palimpsest by Will Noel, Archimedes Project Director and Walters Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books. Noel presented photographs and a narrative of the fascinating tale of discovery that received much media coverage in 2011. Following that the group was given a tour by William Duffy of the sculpture garden at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Day Four

Saturday was Family Day, organized by Kristof Fenyvesi. The public was welcomed to see the Art Exhibition and attend workshops--to observe or participate in hands-on activities. Some of the workshops were "Teaching Temari: Geometrically Embroidered Spheres in the Classroom," by Carolyn Yacel (Mercer University), "The Persian Decorative Art of Tazhib," by Mojgan Lisar, "Let's Make a Chiral Tessellation Dance," by Joseph D. Clinton, "Bead Crochet Bracelets: What Would Escher Do?", by Ellie Baker and Susan Goldstine (St. Mary's College of Maryland), and "Math and Dance--Windmills and Tilings and Things," by Karl Schaffer (Dr. Schaffer and Mr. Stern Dance ensemble and De Anza College). See the full list of Family Day workshops.

Conference sessions included "Two-color Fractal tilings," by Robert Fathauer, "The Mathematical Art of Juggling: Using Mathematics to Predict, Describe and Create," by Mike Naylor, "Mitered Fractal Trees: Constructions and Properties," by Tom Verhoeff and Koos Verhoeff, plus presentations on anamorphic art, braids, Topkapi Scrolls, Islamic geometric patterns and beaded crochet.

Ingrid Daubechies (Duke University and President of the International Mathematical Union) presented a plenary talk, "Developing Mathematical Tools to Investigate Art." Using wavelet analysis she worked on a team to detect whether artworks were forged (for more information see "Ingrid Daubechies: Using math to identify art forgeries, reconstruct extinct animals' diets," by Hannah Hickey, University of Washington, April 3, 2012, and "Art Authentication," on NOVA).

The Bridges Short Movie Festival, coordinated by Amy and Nathan Selikoff, Experimental Theater performance of Albert's Bridge, by Tom Stoppard, directed by Steve Abbott (Middlebury College), Afternoon of Mathematical Poetry, coordinated by Sarah Glaz (University of Connecticut), and Mime-Matics Night, performed by Tim and Tanya Chartier, were among the special events of the day.

Day Five

The last day of the conference included "The Color Symmetries of the Solstices: Ritual Sandals from the Prehistoric American Southwest," by Dorothy Washburn, "Commissioning a Bridge," by Brent Collins, and presentations on Moorish fretwork, Chinese knots, projective planes, curricular outline for a numeracy course, Einstein, ballet, Depression glass, Conway tiles, and a "Poetry-with-Mathematics Workshop," by JoAnne Growney.

The Bridges 2012 conference concluded with a Music Night, coordinated by Dmitri Tymoczko. Professional musicians performed "Puzzle Canons from the Musical Offering (1747)," by J.S. Bach, "Narayana's Cows (1989)," by Tom Johnson, "Insulin (2012)," by Steven Andrew Taylor, "Edge Flips (2012)," by Fernando Benadon, and "Deploration for Six Instruments (2012)," by Dmitri Tymoczko (hear a podcast interview, Putting Music on the Map).

As a parting celebration, some Bridges participants treated the conference to some informal musical performances, including a song of clever lyrics recapping the Bridges conference set to Gilbert & Sullivan's patter song, "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" (the original of which, incidentally, includes lyrics "I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical, I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical, About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news, With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.")

The annual Bridges conference is a fine example of an interdisciplinary gathering at which all the participants openly share their tools, findings and works. The 2012 conference organizers, participants, and the works in the Art Exhibition provided insights and inspiration to all.

--- Annette Emerson, AMS Public Awareness Officer