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Bridges Enschede 2013
Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture
Enschede, The Netherlands
July 27-31, 2013

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The Bridges Organization celebrates and explores the connections between art and mathematics. Scientific American published a nice article about the Bridges 2012 conference. For the 2013 conference George Hart prepared a video of the math art entries entitled Mathematical Impressions: Art Imitates Math. According to George, the 2013 Bridges conference hosted the largest exhibit ever of math art.

The 2013 annual convention was held in Enschede, NL. The plenary speaker was Sir Harold Kroto, the 1996 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry (along with two others), for his discovery of the carbon 60 (C60, composed of 60 carbon atoms) which he named the Buckministerfullerene, affectionately known as the buckyball. In the polyhedral world this shape is called the truncated icosahedron and commonly seen in a soccerball. The discovery of C60 opened up many new avenues for nanotechnology.


The choice of Sir Kroto as the plentary speaker was what inspired me to apply to the Bridges Enschede convention. This is because I had learned that the HIV-1 virus had a capsid or viron in the shape of a buckminsterfullerene cone - a stretched out version. Up until then I had been making computer virus sculptures that modeled the HIV-1 virus envelope. In the 1990's the envelope was thought to be icosahedral in shape. More recent research has found the envelope to be more spherical and more importantly, the critical feature and focus of interest had become its capsid core; research had moved inside the envelope.

Kroto's plenary speech was fantastic. He is not only a world renowned chemist, but also an artist with a great appreciation for the humanities. He touched on Science, Art, Graphics, theater, tattoos and humor. Each referenced by the logo of his own creation. Kroto's talk was a thrilling and fast paced ride that made our trip to Enschede worthwhile all by itself.



Kroto's talk was also significant to me because he brought back many fond memories of my father, Robert H. McCluer. During his talk Kroto showed several slides showing the mass spectrometer results depicting the eureka moment. While several mathematicians squirmed in their seats not knowing how to interpret the unfamiliar charts and indeed interrupted his talk with a question (Kroto did his best to give an intuitive explanation, but when faced with a follow up question he said "What do you want me to do? Give a seminar on mass spectrometry?")



I, on the other hand, welcomed the familiar charts and felt I had a good intuitive understanding of what Kroto was trying to convey. Moreover, my father was a neuro-biochemist and he worked with technologies like mass spectrometers and high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC), so I had seen similar results before.


What Martha and I will remember and treasure from our visit to Enschede is meeting other mathematical artists from around the world. Since the conference lasted four days we had a chance to sit and talk with people on more than one occasion. Among those we meet were Jim Paulsen and Leigh from nearby Towson, MD; and Ann Hanson and Fred Bryant from Chicago, IL (and avid Blackhawks fans). We also met people from a number of other countries. In particular, Chiraj Mehta, an architect from India who studied in the States, a Regina Bittencourt, a IT pioneer from Santiago, Chile, and Bih-Yaw Jin, a Professor of Chemistry at Taiwan University and prolific mathematical beader.

Clearly our life-long memory from Enschede will be forming a friendship with a world-class woodworker, craftsman and gentleman from Lille, France named Roland Gagneux and his wife Danielle. At the outset what was so surprising was that I spoke no French and Roland spoke very little English. But Roland's polyhedral creations were so familiar to me and they were so impressive in detail and precision that I could not let any language barriers stop me from praising his artistry and asking him many questions. So at the outset we were standing together essentially waving our hands and arms trying to find out what mathematical and woodworking concepts were common to both French and English. As it turns out there were not many.

Fortunately, Martha can wax poetically in French, at least to my ear. At first she was reluctant to be a translator at a mathematical art conference with so many mathematical and technical terms, but with her excellent help Roland and I were able to start a more productive conversation. Roland explained that he recently retired but had been a model-builder who worked in wood for 40 years at a metal foundry. His interest in polyhedrons was sparked when a teacher at a local school asked if he would build some polyhedrons that he could use in his classroom. From there it seems that Roland just skyrocketed in his creativity and he embraced the beauty that came with complex challenges.


On the day that Roland and Danielle were leaving, he did something that was completely incredible and kind: he told us that we was giving us one of his polyhedrons as a gift. You cannot imagine my surprise, followed by utter delight. For a moment I thought that was too much, too precious of a gift, a heirloom perhaps to hand down to children or grandchildren. That moment did not last long because I immediately decided which of my sculptures I would send to him. (In progress.) Everyday Martha and I marvel at Roland's Dual Subnose Dodecahedron with its complex, beautiful patterns and warm wood. Thank you, Roland.


Our conference was very close to the city center. Several sessions and presentations, including Sir Kroto's introductory plenary speech, were held at the Church in the center of the town. There were numerous outside cafes surrounding the church where we ate, drank and talked with other folks attending the conference.


Martha and I really enjoyed visiting Enschede. Contrary to the impression we had from Netherlanders in Amsterdam, we found Enschede to be charming and its people to be warm, friendly and very hospitable. We enjoyed walking through the neighborhoods and our stay there will long be fondly remembered.



My Entries



Roland Gagneux

Martha, Danielle, Roland and Forrest amidst Roland's extraordinary creations
  • Roland Gagneux's sculptural home page can be found here.

  • His personal facebook page can be found here.

  • His beautiful submissions to the Bridges conference: here.

    One of his sculptures has been featured in the Mexican Academy of Mathematics, see page 11.. In addition to his fantastic mathematical art, Roland Gagneux also recently won first place in a sculpture exhibit in April 2013 Roland Gagneux awards from April 2013.


    Chiraj Mehta - Architect by profession and an artist by passion.
    Martha and I had a number of fascinating discussions with Chiraj that crossed over architecture, art, mathematics and their interrelationships.




    Bih-Yaw - Professor of Chemistry
    He has a blog called BeadedMolecules. Bih-Yaw gave a presentation on his beaded fullerenes (on the left), otherwise known as truncated icosahedrons, or buckyballs. During his talk he showed many examples of how these shapes show up in nature. After his talk I spoke with him and pointed out how the HIV-1 viron takes the shape of a fullerene cone - a stretched out version. He was able to created a beaded version of a HIV-1 viron in little over an hour (on the right).


    Additional Photos, Articles and Coverage

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