Robert Fathauer was born in Illinois in 1960. He was interested in art from an early age, and worked in pastels, oil, and acrylic paint in his school years. In 1982, he received the Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Denver with a double major in Physics and Mathematics. In 1987, he received a Ph.D. from Cornell University in Electrical Engineering and joined the research staff of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Long a fan of M.C. Escher, Dr. Fathauer began designing his own tessellations with lifelike motifs in the late 1980's. He learned printmaking techniques for the purpose of producing limited-edition screen prints and woodcuts of his tessellation designs. At the same time, he designed and produced a puzzle based on a squid and ray design. In 1993, he founded a business, Tessellations, to produce puzzles based on his designs. Over time, Tessellations' product line has grown to include mathematics manipulatives, classroom posters, and books as well.
Dr. Fathauer's explorations with tessellations branched into fractals, and around 1990 he began creating art primarily on the computer in order to better realize the intricate detail and complexity of his designs. His fractal tessellations led him to experimenting with fractal knots. He is also fascinated with mathematical forms in nature and has created fractal trees using photographs of real trees and bushes. More recently, he has been working with ceramics to create sculptures that combine fractal character with hyperbolic geometry. These abstract sculptural forms are inspired by natural structure found in corals and plants.
In addition to creating mathematical art, Dr. Fathauer has taken an interest in promoting it through group exhibitions. He took the lead in making art exhibitions an annual feature of both the Bridges Conference, starting in 2001, and the Joint Mathematics Meetings, starting in 2004.