January 24, 2000–The Wolfram Research-sponsored USA/Minnesota team captured second place in the elite 10th annual International Snow Sculpture Championships held last week in Breckenridge, Colorado. The team was one of only 17 chosen out of 24 to participate in this year’s competition, which included representation from the United States, Canada, England, Germany, Finland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Russia, and Switzerland.
The Wolfram team’s award-winning sculpture, entitled Rhapsody in White, was of a Mathematica-generated Enneper surface of degree two–a beautiful minimal surface with tremendous symmetry and aesthetic appeal. The Enneper surface belongs to the family of geometric, minimal surfaces discovered by Alfred Enneper in 1864. A minimal surface is one whose area becomes greater whenever it is pushed or pulled a little, ranging from the simple flat plane to the well-known catenoid and helicoid. At every point, minimal surfaces have saddle points, which give them great strength and allow them to be carved very thinly out of snow or ice.
On Tuesday, contest entrants were each allocated a 20-ton, 10 x 10 x 12-foot block of snow from which to create their sculpture using only nonpower hand tools. USA/Minnesota team members included Robert Longhurst, an experienced wood and stone sculptor but snow-carving neophyte; returning team members Stan Wagon and Dan Schwalbe, faculty in the Mathematics Department of Macalester College; and Andy Cantrell, a sophomore at Macalester College. John Bruning of the Tropel Corporation served as the nonsculpting team photographer and manager.
Although first place went to the Russian team for their soaring tribute to the new millennium, and third place went to the Swiss team for their intricately carved sphere, the USA/Minnesota team also won two out of the other three awards presented on Saturday. The team received the Artists’ Choice Award (voting by the sculptors) and the People’s Choice Award (voting by the approximately 15,000 event spectators). The Kids’ Choice Award went to the USA/Breckenridge team for its butterfly and rose.
Team captain Stan Wagon was very pleased with the positive reception of the community to a mathematical sculpture. In his acceptance speech, Wagon excitedly acknowledged that, even as mathematicians, “true understanding can be obtained only by interacting with the piece in a truly three-dimensional way. This is what snow allows us to do. In a very short period of time and with a minimum of tools, we can sculpt a complicated shape and so learn much more about it. It’s a glorious opportunity and tremendous fun.”
For further information and an extensive photographic display of the event, visit the USA/Minnesota team home page.
The team is also featured in the MathTrek column on the MAA site.
Photos from the 1999 International Snow Sculpture Championships are also available.
Snow Sculpture Photos from the Wolfram Research Team
(Select the thumbnail of the image you wish to view.)