The Maths of Proportion in Art, Design and Nature


Professor Sarah Hart

Sarah B. Hart is a British mathematician specialising in group theory. She is a professor of mathematics at Birkbeck, University of London and the Head of Mathematics and Statistics at Birkbeck.

In 2020, she was appointed to what may be the oldest chair in mathematics in Britain, the Gresham Professor of Geometry in Gresham College. She is the first woman to hold this position “since the chair was established in 1597”.

Hart is a keen expositor of mathematics: she has written about the mathematics of Moby-Dick, and her work has been featured in websites like ‘Theorem of the Day’

From the Ancient Greeks onwards, proportion and mathematics has been central to our ideas of form and beauty.

This lecture looked at the famous golden ratio, from Greek temples to spiral seashells, discussing where it appears in nature (and why), and how people have tried to pinpoint the ‘perfect’ proportions of the human body and face. It also looked at why A4 paper is the shape it is and what cookbooks have to do with the Rhind Papyrus.

This is part of the series: Geometry: The Mathematics of Art

Professor Sarah Hart is the first woman Professor of Geometry at Gresham College, and was appointed in 2020. She is Professor of Mathematics and until recently was Head of Mathematics and Statistics at Birkbeck, University of London.

She studied at Oxford and Manchester, gaining her PhD in 2000. Postdoctoral research and teaching followed, including a prestigious Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Fellowship, before she was appointed to a lectureship at Birkbeck in 2004. She has been Professor of Mathematics there since 2013. In 2021 she began a three-year term as President of the British Society for the History of Mathematics.

Professor Hare is an active researcher, publishing mainly in the area of pure mathematics known as group theory, which has many applications both inside and outside of mathematics, for example in coding theory and cryptography. She is passionate about communicating mathematics and is a sought-after public speaker. She is particularly interested in the links between mathematics, culture and creativity: many of her public lectures and talks in schools are on this topic, especially on mathematics and art.

In 2020-21, Professor Hart will be lecturing on Mathematics in Music and Writing, part of a three-year exploration of Mathematics, Culture and Creativity.

Professor Hart’s lecture series is as follows:

2021/22 Geometry: The Mathematics of Art

2020/21 Mathematics in Music and Writing

All lectures by the Gresham Professors of Geometry can be found here.

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