Their Math Is Art: ‘Scientific American’ Covers the Chalk Drawings of Three Graduate Center Mathematicians

Professor Emerita Linda Keen (GC/Lehman, Mathematics), Professor John Terilla (GC/Queens, Mathematics), and Graduate Center alumna Tai-Danae Bradley, who is now at X - The Moonshot Factory, were featured in a Scientific American magazine story about a photographer’s quest to depict mathematicians’ chalkboard drawings.

Drawn to the chalkboard styles of university mathematicians, photographer Jessica Wynne set out to capture them on camera.

Scientific American featured some of Wynne’s photographs, including three of chalkboard drawings by Graduate Center mathematicians. Two show the work of Terilla and Bradley, who collaborated on the projects.

In one, swirling, surreal shapes are used to help “understand the hidden mathematical structure at work in natural language.”

Terilla told the magazine that the research is part of a quest to find “what's at work behind the scenes.” He added, “Going up a level in abstraction to explain something is a bit like going out of your way to climb a hill and look around — useful in research since it can show the way forward in uncharted territory.”

Another of their chalkboards is filled with formulas used to teach topology to Ph.D. students.

Keen’s chalkboard depicts the dynamical systems for functions of infinite degrees. Her board is filled with long lines, loops, and formulas. “I have been interested in infinite-degree maps,” Keen told the magazine. “These pictures are meant to help understand what happens when you change an f that is infinite degree.”

Terilla’s research interests include algebraic topology, quantum physics, and machine learning. He was Bradley’s Ph.D. adviser. Bradley is a postdoc at X - The Moonshot Factory, formerly known as Google X. Her work draws on quantum physics, machine intelligence, and category theory. Keen studies Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry of three manifolds, and complex dynamical systems.

A number of Wynne’s photographs will appear in her forthcoming book, Do Not Erase: Mathematicians and Their Chalkboards.

Submitted on: MAY 7, 2021

Category: Diversity | Faculty | GCstories | General GC News | Mathematics