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Margaret Wertheim speaking at TED in 2009

Margaret Wertheim (born 20 August 1958, Brisbane, Australia) is a science writer and the author of books on the cultural history of physics. Margaret Wertheim and her twin sister, Christine Wertheim, live in Los Angeles, California together where they founded and continue to operate the Institute for Figuring (IFF). The Institute for Figuring is a non-profit organization which houses their Crochet Coral Reef, which began as a response to the hyperbolic crocheting abilities of Dr. Daina Taimina,[1] a Cornell University mathematician. Wertheim also creates exhibitions at the intersection of science and art which are shown around the world. She has won the 2016 Klopsteg Memorial Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers, and Australia's Scientia Medal (2017) for her work with public science engagement.

Education and ResearchEdit

A research associate at the American Natural Museum of Natural History located in New York, a fellow at the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities,[2] and a PhD candidate and researcher at Deakin University, Wertheim's former education includes two Bachelor's degrees, one of which is a Bachelor of Science in Pure and Applied Physics from the University of Queensland, and the other, a Bachelor of Arts in Pure Mathematics and Computing from the University of Sydney. Wertheim was also the former Discovery Fellow (2012-2013) at the University of Southern California, as well as the former Vice Chancellor's Fellow (2015) at the University of Melbourne. [3]


Wertheim is the author of six books, including a trilogy that collectively considers the role of theoretical physics in the cultural landscape of modern Western society. The first, Pythagoras' Trousers, is a history of the relationship between physics, religion, and gender relations. The second, The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, charts the history of scientific thinking about space from Dante to the Internet. The third book in this series, Physics on the Fringe, looks at the idiosyncratic world of "outsider physicists" such as Jim Carter, people with little or no scientific training who develop their own alternative theories of the universe.

As a journalist, Wertheim has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian, New Scientist, The Sciences, Omni, Science Digest, The Australian Review of Books, 21C: Magazine of Science, Technology and Culture, The Daily Telegraph (London), Die Zeit (Germany), Australian Geographic, Glamour, and is a contributing editor to Cabinet magazine, the international arts and culture quarterly. From 2001 to 2005, she wrote the "Quark Soup" science column for the LA Weekly, sister paper to the Village Voice and is now a regular writer for Aeon. In 2006, her writing was awarded the print journalism prize from the American Institute of Biological Sciences and, in 2004, she was the National Science Foundation visiting journalist to Antarctica. For ten years in her native Australia she wrote regular columns about science and technology for women's magazines such as Vogue Australia and Elle Australia - she may be the only journalist in the world to have held such a position. Her work has been included in Best American Science Writing 2003, edited by Oliver Sacks; Best Australian Science Writing 2015, 2016, 2018 (Newsouth Press); and Best Writing on Mathematics 2018 (Princeton University Press). In 2016 she was granted the Klopsteg Memorial Award for communicating "the joy of physics," by the American Association of Physics Teachers – the first woman to gain this honor in 10 years; and in 2017 she won Australia's Scientia Medal, awarded by the University of New South Wales. Throughout Wertheim's career, she has been able to do work on all seven continents.

Wertheim has penned ten television documentaries, as well as created and co-directed the award-winning series, Catalyst. Catalyst is a six-part science and technology series that was conceived for a teenage audience. She has produced several short films, written and directed the interactive Canadian public health program What About AIDS, and has regularly appeared on US, Canadian, and European television and radio broadcast programs. She has contributed to the PBS program Religion and Ethics Newsweekly as a reporter and to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's weekly current affairs television program, Sunday Morning Live, as a guest. Wertheim lectures around the globe promoting science within a social justice context.[4]

Institute For FiguringEdit

The Föhr Reef exhibited as part of the Crochet Coral Reef project by Margaret and Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring in Tübingen (Germany) in 2013

In 2003, Wertheim and her twin sister Christine, faculty member of the Department of Critical Studies at CalArts, founded the Institute For Figuring, an organization based in Los Angeles that promotes the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of science and mathematics. The IFF proposes that people interact directly via concrete contact with mathematical and scientific ideas, not simply with abstract equations and formulas. The IFF is a nonprofit organization which houses their Crochet Coral Reef, which began as a response to the hyperbolic crocheting abilities of Dr. Daina Taimina, a Cornell University mathematician.[5]

Through their work with the IFF, the Wertheim twins have created exhibitions on scientific and mathematical themes at art galleries and science museums around the world, including the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Machine Project and the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, the Science Gallery at Trinity College in Dublin, Museum of Arts and Design and the Cooper Hewitt in New York, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., providing accessibility to mathematical and scientific concepts to the layperson.

Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef ProjectEdit

The IFF's Crochet Coral Reef project, spearheaded again by the Wertheim sisters- with Margaret as project manager and organizer-in-chief and Christine as aesthetic coordinator- is perhaps the largest participatory art and science endeavor in the world. By creating giant installations out of yarn that mimic living coral reefs, the project resides at the intersection of mathematics, science, handicraft, environmentalism and community art practice. The project teaches audiences about non-Euclidean geometry, while also engaging them with the subject of climate change and the decimation of reefs due to global warming. As of late 2018, more than 10,000 people from New York and London, to Riga and Abu Dhabi, have actively contributed pieces to Crochet Coral Reef exhibitions in more than forty cities and countries. More than two million people have seen these shows. In the Forward to Crochet Coral Reef, the book, Donna Haraway calls the project "palpable, polymorphous, powerful and terrifying stitchery." Wertheim was invited to speak at a Ted Talk in February 2009 to discuss her hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef project. The talk has been transcribed to 22 different languages and has surpassed 1.3 million views on the Ted website.

The Toxic Reef is also the creation of the Wertheim twins. It is crocheted plastic bags to water bottles to videotapes, as a representation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gigantic gyre of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean.

Mosley Snowflake Sponge ProjectEdit

Inspired by and working with Jeannine Mosely, a software engineer and origami artist, Wertheim educated people regarding concepts surrounding fractals, by leading them in a project involving the construction of a giant fractal that utilized 48,912 business cards. High school students, professors, librarians, local artists, and hundreds of college students from diverse departments, such as fine arts, psychology, cinema, and engineering all participated in over 3,000 hours of work it took to complete its construction, without the use of any adhesives. On display at the University of Southern California's Doheny Memorial Library, the completed giant fractal, titled the Mosley Snowflake Sponge, is open for public viewing.

Awards and HonorsEdit

  • Best American Science Writing (2003)
  • Theo Westenberger Award (2011)
  • Discovery Fellow at the University of Southern California (2012-2013)
  • Best Australian Science Writing (2014, 2016, 2018)
  • Vice Chancellor's Fellow at the University of Melbourne (2015)
  • AxS Award (2016)
  • Klopstep Memorial Award (2016)
  • Scientia Medal (2017)
  • Best Writing About Mathematics (2018)
  • American Institute of Biological Sciences Print Journalism Award
  • Andy Warhol Foundation Grant


  • Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars (1995)
  • The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet (1999)
  • A Field Guide to Hyperbolic Space (2005)
  • A Field Guide to the Business Card Menger Sponge (2006)
  • Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons and Alternative Theories of Everything (2011)
  • An Alternative Guide to the Universe: Mavericks, Outsiders, Visionaries. Exhibition catalog, from Hayward Gallery show of the same name, edited by Ralph Rugoff. (2013)
  • Crochet Coral Reef with Christine Wertheim (2015)


  1. ^ McKenna, Kristine (7 January 2009). "Talking with the Institute for Figuring's Margaret and Christine Wertheim". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  2. ^ "Margaret Wertheim |". Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  3. ^ "Biography: Margaret Wertheim". Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  4. ^ "Biography: Margaret Wertheim". Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  5. ^ Shaneen, Marianne (Summer 2014). "Christine and Margaret Wertheim". Bomb. 128: 113–115 – via JSTOR.

External linksEdit