This article is about keeping our brains active while sheltering at home. We talked to an expert Kirby Urner about learning C60, who is a philosophy major. Kirby was born in Chicago and has lived all over the world, eventually returning to Portland, Oregon. His journey includes teaching high school math in Jersey City, database programming for hospitals, and textbook editing.
Kirby knew Bucky Fuller and Kenneth Snelson well. Kenneth Snelson was a Portland-born Pendleton boy. His dad ran a camera shop. Kenneth grew up very talented. He went to Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where a lot of famous people went. Buckminster Fuller was there as a faculty person, and Kenneth Snelson met him. Fuller and Snelson were more like rivals. Kenneth Snelson became wildly successful. By the time Kirby met him, Fuller had already died. Snelson had a studio and lived in a penthouse with his beautiful family. Snelson came from a physics background. He studied double-slit experiments in Germany, where instead of shooting photons, they shoot actual Buckyball C60, carbon atoms, and get the same quantum wave pattern. That was quite a famous experiment at the time. But Snelson wanted to be an artist. So, he came to Portland to break free and start fresh as an artist.
C60 or Buckminsterfullerene:
C60 or Buckminsterfullerene is a 60 carbon atoms molecule in a soccer ball conformation, and they didn’t know this existed until the 80s. It is written as capital C and 60 as a subscript.
Connecting the Right-Brain & the Left-Brain Sides:
We asked Kirby:
“Tell us about how our brain needs to experience geometry and why?
“Your left brain is more lexical, and the right brain is more graphical. We’re used to training the lexical side to where we can read things on sight. Stop for a moment to think that by the time you can read a language; you cannot unsee it. For example, if you cannot read English, no matter how long you stare at a page of English, you cannot make sense of it. So, we school the lexical side hard. But the right side of our brain, in other words, the graphical part of your brain, not everyone strives to polish it, but many artists and people do try. Usually, they construct some symbolic thing that’s going to have a lot of memory power, so you’re not just wasting your time on idle shapes, you’re packing in knowledge.”
We asked Kirby:
“Do you teach this online through Python?”
He told us:
“I want people to be able to visualize without having to go through computers or programming. But in terms of owning your drawings, and having your website, it’s nice to have a sense of autonomy, that you can create all these graphics yourself. So, what I do in my curriculum is I taught people through various ways to become factories for these kinds of images that they will own later, and they don’t have to get permission. That’s one motivation to get good at graphics.”
“The way I teach it is in conjunction with the computer language because Python is a whole separate skill set. When you’re doing something like programming, which is very lexical, and in your mind, you’re thinking of spatial stuff, you imagine things when you’re connecting the left brain and the right brain.”
He further added:
“Many of the math techniques to do by hands that you learn in school could let you with a day’s worth of tedious computations. You could compute the coordinates of a slowly rotating cube or some other shape. But what’s the point if you lose interest in math. But with the computer program, you immediately offload the drudgery of doing it repeatedly. You just have to understand what it’s doing and let it do the work. And then you get this beautiful design on your screen, and you feel like you’re making art. And that’s the thing to drag people into mathematics. They have to feel like they are producing something to be proud of.”
3d Printing – What Future Beholds!
We asked Kirby:
“Is 3d printing going to be part of this?”
“Yes, indeed. If you go to any Maker Faire, they’re going to have a lot of 3d printers there, but in specific, the things that I’m teaching lend themselves to 3d printing. We talked about that in some videos, except I think people get over ambitious when they think 3d printers are fast at what they do and if it’s affordable that you’ll find in your local library. Suppose you don’t have one. It’ll take a half-hour to print anything the size of your thumb.”
“You mentioned that your students could script their 3d shapes and then see it visually on the screen. And now you mentioned 3d printers. What are the things that you teach your students other than these two things?”
“I create a free curriculum that anyone can use, as my hobby. I taught what I call MartianMath at Reed College twice in two different summers. MartianMath is fun, and it gets kids interested, as there’s very much science fiction involved.”
Jupyter notebook is something that you download to your laptop. You can create crisp interactive documents on it, and then put up on the web for free on GitHub. For example, a combination of freeform text.
What is MartianMath?
“Tell us how you use C60 math with your students or with your teachers?”
“The way I teach MartianMath is, I say, it is a thin disguise for this Buckminster Fuller geometry which involves making the tetrahedron, a pyramid with all triangle shapes sides. The tetrahedron is the most important shape in this geometry. It doesn’t feel like what you learned in school; it feels alien. That’s why I call it MartianMath. We pretend that humans and Martians are going to work together. They’re going to build a hydropower dam together like Bonneville. Kids like that. I want kids to become aware of the ecosystem, and a big part of that around here are the big dams. Martians are tetrahedron oriented, whereas the humans are very cube-oriented, right angle based. I use the Martian human split to phase in and introduce the somewhat esoteric and different geometry of the Buckminster Fuller kind. And that’s where I bring in C60 classic because they have to build it manually. It’s not that easy to do. There are certain rules you have to follow to make things with that.”
“I have multiple interconnected websites, all free and tons of YouTube tutorials. So, thousands of kids could be learning this stuff, and I don’t have to lift a finger because I’ve already put it out there. It’s a good place to be writing because you can spread something that could make a lot of other people’s careers like they could get famous independently. Now is the time to introduce exotic, strange new curricula because people are stuck at home, and they’re not being taught like the standard curriculum.”
Kirby further told us about how they are continuing their learning journey during the current circumstances. He said, a certain number of boxes of 20-30 C60 balls are shipped to the students, and they are taught how to assemble and to disassemble them. Later the lecture is delivered through zoom meetings.
In the end, we thanked Kirby Urner for sharing his precious time and knowledge with us and bid him goodbye.
Learn More About MartianMath at:
and here at this site.
For inspiration, see this storyboard.