Distinguished Lecture: Erik Demaine - Algorithms Meet Art, Puzzles, and Magic

Thursday, January 20, 2011 | 3:30pm - 4:45pm

When I was six years old, my father Martin Demaine and I designed and made puzzles as the Erik and Dad Puzzle Company, which distributed to toy stores across Canada. So began our journey into the interactions between algorithms and the arts (here, puzzle design). More and more, we find that our mathematical research and artistic projects converge, with the artistic side inspiring the mathematical side and vice versa. Mathematics itself is an art form, and through other media such as sculpture, puzzles, and magic, the beauty of mathematics can be brought to a wider audience. These artistic endeavors also provide us with deeper insights into the underlying mathematics, by providing physical realizations of objects under consideration, by pointing to interesting special cases and directions to explore, and by suggesting new problems to solve (such as the metapuzzle of how to solve a puzzle). This talk will give several examples in each category, from how our first font design led to building transforming robots, to how studying curved creases in origami led to sculptures at MoMA. The audience will be expected to participate in some live magic demonstrations.


Erik Demaine is Associate Professor in computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Demaine's research interests range throughout algorithms, from data structures for improving web searches to the geometry of understanding how proteins fold to the computational difficulty of playing games. He received a MacArthur Fellowship (2003) as a "computational geometer tackling and solving difficult problems related to folding and bending--moving readily between the theoretical and the playful, with a keen eye to revealing the former in the latter". He cowrote a book about the theory of folding, together with Joseph O'Rourke, called Geometric Folding Algorithms: Linkages, Origami, Polyhedra (Cambridge University Press, 2007). His interests span the connections between mathematics and art, particularly sculpture and performance.

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