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The Bizarre and Brilliant World of Knitted Science

From crocheted axons to knitted frog spleens, these handicrafts are a perfect blend of scholarship and art.

By Eliza Strickland
Jun 29, 2010 4:07 PMJul 19, 2023 3:47 PM


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Photo Credits: All text by Eliza Strickland; image by Emily Stoneking.

What happens when science nerds get hold of knitting needles and crochet hooks? Marvelous, wonderful things, that's what. Here we present a sampling of our favorite knitted and crocheted science creations.

This dissected frog is the product of Emily Stoneking's fertile imagination. Stoneking had been knitting conventional, cute frogs as toys for some time when she got the idea to slice one open.

Photo Credits: Image: Avital Pinnick

Avital Pinnick's husband first asked her to make him a sweater decorated with molecular structure diagrams; when she decided that wasn't feasible, they settled on a sweater displaying the periodic table of elements. As an added bonus, she put the names of bacteria species on one sleeve, and fungus species on the other.

Photo Credits: Image: Anita Bruce

With degrees in both zoology and art, Anita Bruce has a keen awareness of the beauty of biological forms. These knitted plankton aren't modeled on specific species, but given the bizarre diversity that exists among the microscopic sea creatures, it seems entirely likely that researchers have similar critters in their taxonomy books.

Photo Credits: Image: Karen Norberg

Psychiatrist Karen Norberg says the greatest challenge she faced in knitting a brain was constructing its three-dimensional anatomy from two-dimensional reference images in textbooks. "The deep cortical structures around the corpus callosum — i.e., amygdala, hippocampus, and the limbic system in general — were the hardest to sort out," she says.

Photo Credits: Image: Kelly Willits

Crafty Kelly Willits had a creative approach to studying for her biopsychology class in college. To make sure she understood how nuclei, dendrites, and axons came together to form different types of brain cells, she pulled out her crochet hook and went to work. These sensory neurons were some of her favorite creations.

Photo Credits: Image: Daina Taimina

Hyperbolic space is a non-Euclidean geometic form, and it's a hard thing to get one's head around. Mathematicians describe it as a shape with a constant negative curvature — the opposite of a ball, which has a constant positive curve. For years, researchers thought it was impossible to create a physical model of hyperbolic space, but Daina Taimina and her crochet hook proved them wrong. Taimina has since become something of a celebrity for the crafty-geeky set, with her work featured in videos and art shows.

Photo Credits: Image: The Institute For Figuring (by Alyssa Gorelick)

When the Australian twins Margaret and Christine Wertheim saw Dr. Taimina's work, they were reminded of the wrinkled shapes found in coral reefs. Since 2005 their organization, the Institute For Figuring, has spearheaded the creation of a crochet coral reef. Using the techniques of hyperbolic crochet, artists have created kelp, anemones, and a rich diversity of corals. This photo features urchins by Christine Wertheim and a sea slug by Marianne Midelburg.

Photo Credits: Image: Sarah-Marie Belcastro

This scarf would have been a great present for M.C. Escher, the Dutch artist who sketched impossible architecture and infinitely repeating systems. Why? Because the scarf is a Mobius strip, a "non-orientable" object with only one side: If an ant were to crawl along the strip, it would traverse both the "inside" and the "outside" without ever crossing an edge.

Sarah-Marie Belcastro specializes in mathematical knitting, and made another non-orientable object, the Klein bottle, into a hat.

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