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From Butterflies to Maps Hessler’s path to mathematical cartography began with butterflies.

“The minute I saw one of the portolans, I was interested in its structure,” Hessler says.Many modern maps solve this problem by using so-called Mercator projections, which turn the lines of latitude parallel to the equator and the lines of longitude that converge at the Earth’s poles into a tidy grid of perpendicular lines on a flat plane.What Hessler saw on the portolan chart was a different solution: a seemingly random pattern of lines showing the 16 directions (north, northeast, east-northeast and so on), spreading out from various locations.The less energy required, the more similar the positions of the spots — and, perhaps, the more closely related the butterflies.When his adventure in the Alps ended, Hessler’s newfound mapping expertise landed him a job as a curator at the Library of Congress, where one of his duties was to maintain the vault that holds the institution’s most rare and important maps.

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