A series of block prints creating a more accurate representation of the people creating Mathematics
Who pops into your mind when you think “mathematician?” Probably Pythagoras or Einstein or Isaac Newton. What if you had a richer visual vocabulary of people to choose from? Providing that visual vocabulary is the aim of this project.
If we want a more diverse group of people entering the field of mathematics, we need to make sure math students can imagine themselves when we say the word, “mathematician.” We need to elevate and celebrate a wider selection of mathematicians and their work.
My goal is to create a series of block print and watercolor portraits of mathematicians with a diversity of racial and gender identities for displaying in math classrooms. I’ll update this page with my progress.
Moon Duchin is an American mathematician who currently teaches at Tufts University. She specializes in Geometric Topology and Geometric Group theory and heads the MGGG Redistricting Lab at Tish College of Tufts University. Her work there uses mathematics to classify gerrymandering and protect voting rights.
Eugenia Cheng is a British mathematician and classical pianist who currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After focusing on traditional mathematics research, publishing, and teaching, she shifted to writing and teaching for a general audience. She has written several books connecting mathematics to topics such as baking, social justice, and gender studies. She also creates art installations using mathematics.
Here’s an interesting talk on art math and social justice that I listened to while sketching and carving this piece.
Maryam Mirzakhani is the first (and to date only) woman to win the prestigious Fields Medal in Mathematics for her contributions to dynamics, topology and hyperbolic geometry. Mirzakhani was born in Tehran, Iran, and attended school there. She did not always want to study mathematics, but discovered a love for the subject in high school, winning two gold medals for Iran in the International Mathematical Olympiad. Mirzakhani was a professor of mathematics at Stanford University before she died in 2017.
Mirzakhani was a very private person, so there are not many videos or interviews of her on the Internet. However a film describing her life and work, Secrets of the Surface: the mathematical vision of Maryam Mirzakhani, was released in 2020. This Quanta magazine article also has a beautiful description of her work.
John Urschel is a Canadian-American mathematician and a retired professional football player. He played college football at Penn State and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. His research fields include numerical linear algebra, graph theory, and data science/machine learning. He is currently a PhD student and mathematics professor at MIT.
I listened to this talk on Voronoi fields, football and machine learning at the National Museum of Mathematics while I worked on this print.
Yitang Zhang is an American mathematician in the field of number theory. He was a relatively unknown math professor at the University of New Hampshire when he showed there are an infinite number of prime pairs whose difference is less than 70 million. This finding is remarkable because it was the first step towards proving the conjecture that there are an infinite number of prime pairs with smaller differences. His work led to a MacArthur fellowship and an appointment as a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
I enjoyed watching this video by Numberphile explaining his work as I prepared to talk about him in my Algebra class.
Autumn Kent is an American mathematician specializing in geometry and topology. She is a self described “late bloomer” who initially went to college to become an English teacher, but enjoyed her math classes so much that she decided to become a mathematician instead. Autumn is a trans woman who advocates for more trans representation in the mathematics community. She is currently a professor at University of Wisconson-Madison.
Kent made a lovely explanation of the connections between old school video games and topology in this Fields Institute video: Asteroids, Donuts, and Topology. I also enjoyed reading her interview in Scientific American, “Being a Trans Mathematician.”
Chelsea Walton is an American mathematician who specializes in Non-Commutative Algebra. She was educated in Detroit public schools, and loved counting, patterns, and puzzles from a young age. She was named a Sloan fellow in 2017, and was the first woman awarded the André Lichnerowicz Prize in Poisson geometry in 2018. She currently researches and teaches at Rice University.
Here’s the lecture on Non Commutative Algebra I listened to while carving this print. I didn’t understand most of it, but I still found it interesting.
Amie Wilkinson is an American mathematician who works in Dynamical Systems. In her research, she discovers complex systems of motion that unfold in unexpected ways. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021 for her overall contributions to the field. She is currently a professor at the University of Chicago.
This article in Quanta Magazine gives a beautiful insight into how she thinks about mathematics. I loved watching this video of her explaining the work of Maryam Mirzakhani at the Fields Sypmposium in 2018.
Jaime Escalante was a math teacher famous for his work with under-served students at a Los Angeles high school. Escalante challenged the administration and worked to develop a math program that made it possible for students to achieve high levels of mathematics, pass the AP Calculus exam, and enroll in prestigious colleges.
Escalante was popularized in the 1988 movie Stand and Deliver, which he describes as 90% truth and 10% drama. After he retired, he remained active in education, and I found this interview with Education Week very informative and interesting. In 2016 the United States Postal Service honored Escalante by issuing a commemorative stamp.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Contact me–I would love to hear from you!