Public Lectures

“Unfolding Humanity: Mathematics at Burning Man”

Prof. Diane HOFFOSS


Short Bio

Diane Hoffoss is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of San Diego with research interests in the areas of 3-manifold topology, foliations, and hyperbolic geometry.  She has also worked at NASA JPL on problems involving optimizing the scheduling of communication between the Mars rovers, Mars orbiters, and the 3 Deep Space Network stations on Earth, and she has written a computer program which computes length spectra of hyperbolic manifolds which was included in the software system SnapPea.

She has also combined her love of the visual side of mathematics with her programming skills in the creation of several large-scale art installations at Burning Man. Most notably, she was Lead Artist and Project Co-Lead for her project Unfolding Humanity, a 12' unfolding dodecahedron which included programmed LED animations and an interior infinity mirror room, and was Lighting Artist and Software Lead for a multimedia, 42' diameter torus called The Journey Project.

Poster here


Monday October 21, 2019:

4:00 - 5:00: Coffee (Common room in Kerchoff Hall, map)

5:30 - 6:30: Public Lecture (Physics Building, room 204, map)

Tuesday October 22, 2019:

3:30 - 4:30: Geometry Seminar (Monroe Hall, room 111, map)


Public Lecture:

Unfolding Humanity: Mathematics at Burning Man

A two-ton interactive sculpture called Unfolding Humanity came to life at Burning Man 2018, the world’s most influential large-scale sculpture showcase. Rising 12 feet tall with an 18-foot wingspan in the Nevada desert, the unfolding dodecahedron was illuminated by 16,000 LEDs, requiring 6500 person hours and $40,000 in funds. Its interior, large enough to hold 15 people, was fully lined with massive mirrors, alluding to a possible shape of our universe.  The unfolding exterior points to the 500-year-old work of Albrecht Dürer, and the tantalizing open problem of discovering a geometric unfolding for every convex polyhedron. This talk outlines the journey of two mathematicians embracing the role of amateur sculpture artists.

Geometry Seminar:

Topological and Geometric Complexity for Hyperbolic 3-Manifolds

We will introduce Scharlemann-Thompson handle decompositions of a 3-manifold, and a generalization of this which we call a graph decomposition. Using these, we define topological measures of complexity for the manifold. In the case where the manifold has additional metric structure, we use Morse and Morse-like functions to give geometric definitions of complexity as well.  We will then reveal connections between these geometric and topological complexities.


Slava Krushkal and Sara Maloni (Mathematics)


Institute of Mathematical Science (IMS), Department of Mathematics.

Photo Credits: Bob Mule (top), Gilles Bonugli Kali @gbkstyle (bottom).