Arrival of our colouring books!

by Julia Collins

We were very excited this week at the arrival of a box of colouring books: the wonderful Snowflake, Seashell, Star by Alex Bellos and Edmund Harris.


This book is going to be the focus of our 'Colouring' station, giving people the chance to enjoy some tranquility and mindfulness whilst learning about some of the more beautiful aspects of mathematics.

I love the variety of topics that this book covers: fractals, the golden ratio, Latin squares, prime numbers, randomness, tilings, polyhedra (including in 4D!), calculus, Fourier series, knots, and even more. Another thing I like about this book is that you are free to engage as little or as much with the mathematics as you want. The pictures in the book are presented entirely alone, with no text or even titles, allowing you to make your own interpretations - to guess at what the pictures might mean or how they were created. The creativity of your colouring isn't bounded by what the pictures mean, but at the same time it invites you to think more deeply about the pictures than in a standard colouring book. At the back of the book there are explanations for each of the pictures to describe the mathematics behind them, hopefully inspiring people to go away and investigate further.

A 200x200 Ulam spiral. By Grontesca at the English language Wikipedia.

A 200x200 Ulam spiral. By Grontesca at the English language Wikipedia.

Most of the book has straightforward pictures to colour in, but one of the sections is called 'Creating', and invites the reader to create their own art through guided mathematical processes. For example, the first two of these pages shows how to colour in a grid of squares according to where the prime numbers are. This is called an Ulam spiral and was created by mathematician Stanislaw Ulam in 1963 while he was doodling in an exceptionally boring meeting. Although at first the dots appear to be placed randomly, a large picture like the one drawn here shows strange lines appearing, for reasons that mathematicians still don't entirely understand.

Perhaps somebody doodling at our craft festival will discover other patterns and mysteries to keep mathematicians busy in the years to come!

Copies of Snowflake, Seashell, Star will be available to buy at our Maths Craft Festival, so don't worry if you can't find a copy in your local bookshop.