The mathematics of dessins d’enfants

by Ian Short

I had the pleasure today of delivering a workshop in Belfast on The mathematics of dessins d’enfants as part of the Northern Ireland Science Festival 2020. This workshop explored some of the more geometric aspects of the Navigating by Numbers outreach programme. The abstract sums it up:

The workshop will be an interactive exploration of the incredible mathematical theory of dessins d’enfants (“children’s drawings”). We can think of a dessin d’enfant as a shape that you obtain by gluing together a number of triangles. Remarkably, these simple objects give rise to far deeper mathematical ideas, which form an active subject of modern research. With models and illustrations, and hands-on activities, the workshop will explore some of the secrets of dessins d’enfants, and look at the mathematicians who have developed the subject.

The workshop is for those with appreciation of shape and symmetry. By exploring models and pictures, participants will appreciate the flavour of an exciting branch of contemporary mathematics. We will meet some beautiful geometric ideas, which will be a source of inspiration for aspiring mathematicians and artists alike!

Travelling to Belfast was an epic and thoroughly enjoyable trip. I don’t fly on aeroplanes – instead I caught a train from Milton Keynes to Holyhead, then a ferry from Holyhead to Dublin, and a train from Dublin to Belfast. I felt nostalgic for the familiar dump that surrounds Dublin Connolly Station. I used to live in Dublin, and took salsa classes near the station.

Many thanks to the creative, intelligent attendees of the workshop, of all ages, for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Image of the Farey tessellation with two adjacent triangles highlighted

Screenshot of a slide from the workshop