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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Vi Hart turns science into artistic patterns

Published: January 17, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

Sometimes watching YouTube feels like eating the last of the potato chips: You’re tired of feeding yourself junk, but you just have to keep going until you can’t go any longer. YouTube’s never-ending supply of unsatisfying clips can leave you in such a funk that when you do find a quality channel it can come as a bit of a surprise. It was on one of these “junk food” YouTube binges that I fell upon Vi Hart, a YouTuber who provides an incredibly fresh and unique spin to otherwise repetitive vlogging.

Vi Hart’s channel is part education, part magic and all whimsy. Vi Hart guides viewers through crazy mathematical concepts with a weirdly exciting delivery that flows like a stream-of-consciousness poem. Through this hypnotic rhythm she explains the world around you, finding patterns you never knew existed or cared about.

In one video, “Doodling in Math Class: Connecting Dots,” Hart teaches you how to doodle through a rambling rant against the education system. Her argument: Math teachers teach “what to think” rather than “how to think.” By teaching you how to doodle, she provides a fun and inviting way for people who otherwise would just watch another video of a cat playing with another cat to think about math and the world around us.

At this point it’s probably a good moment to say that I hate math. Math has always given me a tremendous amount of anxiety. Right about the time they started replacing numbers with letters, I checked out. This is something more than math. Hart’s videos are a poetic examination of the hidden world of patterns. She shows a beautiful side of an otherwise rigid and foreboding world.

Another great part of Hart’s channel is that it provides quirky and unique DIY activities. She has a series of videos about a weird geometric shape she calls the “hexaflexagon.” By contorting a piece of paper, Hart creates a truly unbelievable three dimensional shape (you’ll have to watch the video for an explanation). The shape folds almost like a fortune-teller but amazingly has three sides, despite looking like a flat disc. Maybe to a math major, the principle I’m describing is not exciting, but to me, a lowly humanities student, I was truly stunned. In her next video, she shows you how to fold a “hexahexaflexagon” that has six sides. But Hart takes it an extra step. In a third installment she shows you how to make a “Flex Mex” burrito. Yes. This is a burrito that appears flat, but actually has three sides. And it (kind of) works!

Vi Hart’s videos do more than just provide a fun respite from otherwise stressful college life (read: procrastination). They open you up to a world you otherwise wouldn’t seek out. In one video she takes you through time and space, literally folding space-time by messing with the properties of a music box. In another she performs “Math Improv” with Fruit by the Foot and explores the hidden wonders of a “strip of fruit flavored gunk.” She spends time in another working on the question of what infinity elephants would look like and in the process gives you a new and impressive doodle game to play.

Do not spend your entire life watching videos of people making impossible basketball shots, clips of dogs saying “I love you,” or six-second clips of people moving impossibly fast. Take a moment and enjoy some YouTube brain candy in the form of Vi Hart.