Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!
Math projects are exciting—especially when a whole bunch of people work together. One example of big-time collaboration is the GIMPS project, where anyone can use their computer to help find the next large prime number. Another is the recent MegaMenger project, where people from all over the world helped to build a giant 3D fractal.
But what if I told you that you can join up with others on the internet to discover some brand-new math by playing a webgame?
Chris Staecker is a math professor at Fairfield University. This past summer he led a small group of students in a research project. Research Experiences for Undergraduates—or REUs, as they’re called—are summer opportunities for college students to be mentored by professors. Together they work to figure out some brand-new math.
The crew from last summer’s REU at Fairfield. Chris is furthest in the back.
The irreducible digital images containing 1, 5, 6, and 7 “chunks”.
Chris and his students Jason Haarmann, Meg Murphy, and Casey Peters worked on a topic in graph theory called “digital images”. Computer images are made of discrete chunks, but we often want to make them smaller—like with pixel art. So how can we make sure that we can make them smaller without losing too much information? That’s an important problem.
Now, the pixels on a computer screen are in a nice grid, but we could also wonder about the same question on an arbitrary connected network—and that’s what Chris, Jason, Meg, and Casey did. Some networks can be made smaller through one-step “neighbor” moves while still preserving the correct connection properties. Others can’t. By the end of the summer, the team had come up with enough results about digital images with up to eight chunks to write about them in a paper.
To help push their research further, Chris has made a webgame that takes larger networks and offers them as puzzles to solve. Here’s how I solved one of them:
See how the graph “retracts” onto itself, just by moving some of the nodes on top of their neighbors? That’s the goal. And there are lots of puzzles to work on. For many of them, if you solve them, you’ll be the first person ever to do so! Mathematical breakthrough! Your result will be saved, the number at the bottom of the screen will go up by one, and Chris and his students will be one step closer to classifying unshrinkable digital images.
Starting with the tutorial for Nice Neighbors is a good idea. Then you can try out the unsolved experimental puzzles. If you find success, please let us know about in the comments!
Do you have a question for Chris and his students? Then send it to us and we’ll try to include it in our upcoming Q&A with them.
Next up: you probably know by now that at Math Munch, we just can’t get enough of great mathy gifs. Well, Sumit Sijher has us covered this week, with his Tumblr called archery.
Here are four of Sumit’s gifs. There are plenty more where these came from. This is a nice foursome, though, because they all spin. Click to see the images full-sized!
How many different kinds of cubes can you spot?
Clockwise or counterclockwise?
I really appreciate how Sumit also shares the computer code that he uses to make each image. It gives a whole new meaning to “show your work”!
Through Sumit’s work I discovered that WolframAlpha—an online calculator that is way more than a calculator—has a Tumblr, too. By browsing it you can find some groovy curves and crazy estimations. Sumit won an honorable mention in Wolfram’s One-Liner Competition back in 2012. You can see his entry in this video.
And now for the most important meal of the day: breakfast. Mathematicians eat breakfast, just like everyone else. What do mathematicians eat for breakfast? Just about any kind of breakfast you might name. For some audio-visual evidence, here’s a collection of sound checks by Numberphile.
Sconic sections. Yum!
If that has you hungry for a mathematical breakfast, you might enjoy munching on some sconic sections, a linked-to-itself bagel, or some spirograph pancakes.