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Why math brains fall for rock climbing

EMORY (US)—What’s it like to fall 40 feet down a sheer cliff face, while dangling from a rope hundreds of feet from the ground?

Watch the video of Emory University mathematician Skip Garibaldi describe his rock climbing experiences on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

He also explains some basic climbing math, such as the fall factor used to reduce the risk of injury during a rope climb.

“Climbing has a lot of puzzles that have to be solved,” Garibaldi says. “It’s not just strength or skill. You really have to think about the different ways you can place your body.”

The sport seems to attract mathematicians, he adds.

“When I learned how to climb, in San Diego, Mike Freedman was a professor there. He has the Fields Medal for his work on the Poincaré conjecture, and he helped develop the San Diego climbing scene.”

One of Garibaldi’s collaborators, noted French mathematician Jean-Pierre Serre, “has bouldered at Fontainebleau, near Paris, for decades,” Garibaldi says.

And mathematician John Gill, who went to high school in Atlanta, and graduated from the University of Georgia, is considered the father of modern bouldering by many climbers.

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