USC Libraries Welcome Margaret Wertheim as Inaugural Discovery Fellow

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/28/11

Photo by Anitra Menning

Dean Catherine Quinlan of the USC Libraries has named Margaret Wertheim, a science writer and director of the Institute For Figuring, as the first USC Libraries Discovery Fellow. Wertheim begins her fellowship on November 2 with The Marine Sublime, an event that will investigate the relationship between art and marine biology through discussion, film clips, and exploration of rare scientific works in the libraries’ special collections.

Through her work directing the Institute For Figuring, Wertheim has developed many exhibitions and educational programs dedicated to increasing understanding of the mathematics of art, the poetry of geometry, and the surprising connections between the scientific and the fantastical.

Margaret and her sister Christine Wertheim are the creative forces behind the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. The reef began as a public art project in 2005, as the Wertheim sisters set out to crochet a reef in homage to the Great Barrier Reef of their native Australia and to explore the complex, hyperbolic mathematics of coral geometry. Developing a taxonomy of crocheted life forms, the Wertheims have nurtured the reef into a global collaboration that engages thousands of craftspeople who create segments of the thriving, woolen reef.

The Institute For Figuring has exhibited the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef around the world, most recently at the Science Gallery in Dublin, Ireland, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

“As our inaugural Discovery Fellow, Margaret will help USC students and scholars discover and engage with library collections in inventive ways,” Catherine Quinlan said. “The Discovery Fellow projects will showcase the creative and scholarly possibilities of investigating, reinterpreting, and presenting library collections in new contexts and from new perspectives. The Marine Sublime—with its exploration and remixing of biology, animation, poetry, and cinema—is an excellent expression of what we intend to inspire with among the USC community.”

“It’s particularly fitting that a gift from an alumna of USC’s former library science program made the Discovery Fellowship possible,” Quinlan added. “The generosity of Barbara M. Wight—a lifelong public librarian who passed away in 2010—will support our work to demonstrate the intellectual and creative vitality of our libraries.”

“I am excited to begin a project such as the Discovery Fellowship at USC, where we will be able to engage such a talented and intellectually curious community,” Wertheim said. “The evolution of ideas happens in response to dynamic conditions in our cultural landscape, and today, libraries are at the forefront of intellectual and cultural change. As places where ideas meet, libraries are the ideal environments in which to forge new conversations between the arts, sciences and humanities.”

Wertheim’s career as a science writer has grown in parallel with the success of the Institute For Figuring. Her latest book, Physics on the Fringe, arrived on October 25th.

Wertheim will moderate The Marine Sublime November 2, at 4:00 p.m., in USC’s Doheny Memorial Library. The event will feature filmmaker David Lebrun, creator of Proteus—a documentary that explores the relationship of art and science through the works of 19th-century biologist and illustrator Ernst Haeckel—and Marina McDougall, the co-editor of Science is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé. McDougall also organized the first retrospective of the French director’s pioneering underwater films in the United States.

The program will include clips from and discussion of Proteus and selected Painlevé works, as well as a viewing of rare editions of Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations from the libraries’ special collections. The Marine Sublime is free and open to the public. To RSVP, visit and enter the event code Marine. For more information, call or e-mail Patty Johnson at or (213) 821-1153.

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