Euler and the Kids

euler-o-ballBeing on parental leave, somewhat naturally, gave me more time to spend in the kids’ room. After a chance encounter with Mr Pythagoras there some time ago, it was now time  for a scheduled meeting with Mr Euler. The configuration in the image to this post is known to young parents as an Oball. To mathematicians, it is known as the truncated icosahedron. An interesting fact is that because it is constructed entirely from pentagons and hexagons, it has to have exactly 12 pentagons. Let’s see how Mr Euler can convince us of this necessity. Continue reading

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Regular Viruses

As long as they do not infect us, viruses are nothing but fascinating. One aspect of this fascination is based on the shapes of viruses. Looking at electron microscopy images of viruses or at computer models based on X-ray crystallography, my impression is that mother nature has copied from a geometry book. This impression is echoed by what you find in books and papers on virology. Why do biologists think about possible polyhedra with icosahedral symmetry? Why is it that many viruses have the shape of such polyhedra? For some years, it seemed like biologists had a very accurate theory of the construction of such regular viruses. Advances in imaging have left them less confident but with an even higher appreciation of the formation of biological shapes.

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Neighbourly Polyhedra

k4In the plane, it is relatively easy to find four convex polygons which pairwise share an edge and are otherwise disjoint. Can you find five polygons in the plane with these properties? How about polyhedra? How many polyhedra can you find such that any pair of them share a face and are otherwise disjoint?
For me, this is an example where my three-dimensional imagination fails utterly. If you have never thought about this before, I suggest to try finding as many such polyhedra as possible (why not start with seven?) before reading on.

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Beauty in Patents

In an earlier post, I wondered about the hidden beauty of scientific illustrations in books which are read only by very few specialists. A similar situation is found in the context of patents. They usually come with clarifying sketches or illustrations which range from sloppy to artistic.

Not later than from the moment Richard Buckminster Fuller filed his patent on cartography in 1944, mathematical beauty had found its way into patent applications. How many hidden gems may there be in patents? At least, having patents available online makes it a lot easier to spot some.

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Soap Bubbles: a Paradise for Kids and Math Nerds

soap_in_snowSoap bubbles are simply irresistible. As is the heading of Section 4.3 of Roberto Piazza‘s book Soft Matter, so I had to borrow it for this post. In the book, you can learn about some of the wonderful physical properties of soap bubbles. For example, I was not aware that each bubble is a double shell enclosing water in between. In this way, the hydrophilic heads of the soap molecules point inside whereas the hydrophobic tails point outside. The colours are then created by interference of light reflected from the two soap films. As water flows and evaporates between the films, colours change depending on the distance between the two films.

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The Groups of the Tetrahedron, the Octahedron, and the Icosahedron

icosahedron_smallAfter discussing the dihedral group, it is time to post my images of how Klein introduces the symmetry groups of the tetrahedron, the octahedron and the icosahedron.

By duality, this also handles the case of the dodecahedron (it is the dual of the icosahedron) and that of the cube (it is the dual of the octahedron) and thus all the Platonic solids are covered.

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