Margaret Wertheim (born 20 August 1958, Brisbane, Australia) is a science writer and the author of books on the cultural history of physics. She is one of a pair of twins who reside together in Los Angeles, CA. She 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 Research
Both a research associate at the American Natural Museum of Natural History located in New York and a fellow at the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities,Wertheim's education includes two Bachelor's degrees, one of which is a Bachelor of Science in Pure and Applied Physics, and the other a Bachelor of Arts in Pure Mathematics and Computing.
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 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.
Institute For Figuring
In 2003, Wertheim and her twin sister Christine founded the Institute For Figuring, an organization based in Los Angeles that promotes the poetic and aesthetic dimensions of science and mathematics. Christine Wertheim is a faculty member of the Department of Critical Studies at CalArts. 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.
The IFF's Crochet Coral Reef project 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."
- 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)
- McKenna, Kristine (2009-01-07). "Talking with the Institute for Figuring's Margaret and Christine Wertheim". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
- "Margaret Wertheim | Edge.org". www.edge.org. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
- "Biography: Margaret Wertheim". www.pbs.org. Retrieved 2018-10-17.
- Jascha Hoffman, "Q&A: The outsider insider", Nature 11/3/2011, Vol. 479 Issue 7371, p40
- Margaret Wertheim – website
- Institute For Figuring — dedicated to aesthetic dimensions of science and mathematics
- Crochet Coral Reef — international science and art project
- Crochet Coral Reef - book
- Slide show of Crochet Coral Reef exhibition images
- Wertheim's presentation at TED
- and a deeper discussion with TED editor Kari Mulholland
- Video of interview/discussion with Wertheim by George Johnson on Bloggingheads.tv
- The New York Times — Wertheim Op-Ed — Faster-than-light shadows
- LA Weekly - archived articles and columns
- Faith, Reason, Gender from Soka Gakkai International
- Wertheim article on women and science from The New York Times
- Wertheim article on quantum pseudo-mysticism from LA Weekly
- Wertheim Twins Crochet A Coral Reef from The Los Angeles Times
- Scientia Medal for science communication, awarded by the University of New South Wales, November 2017.
- How to Play Mathematics, Wertheim article on mathematics as material play, from Aeon magazine, 2017.
- Radical Dimensions, Wertheim article about the history of the concept of dimensions in math and physics, from Aeon magazine, 2017.
- The Grandeur and Limits of Science Interview with Krista Tippett on NPR's On Being, 2015.
- Is the Universe A Number? Interview with Anne Strainchamps on NPR's To The Best Of Our Knowledge, 2017.
- Best Writing on Mathematics 2018 Princeton University Press, 2018.