Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!
It’s my turn now to post about how much fun we had at Bridges! One of the best parts of Bridges was seeing the art on display, both in the galleries and in the lobby where people were displaying and selling their works of art. We spent a lot of time oogling over the 3D printed sculptures of Henry Segerman. Henry is a research fellow at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, studying 3-dimensional geometry and topology. The sculptures that he makes show how beautiful geometry and topology can be.
These are the sculptures that Henry had on display in the gallery at Bridges. They won Best Use of Mathematics! These are models of something called 4-dimensional regular polytopes. A polytope is a geometric object with flat sides – like a polygon in two dimensions or a polyhedron in three dimensions. 4-dimensional polyhedra? How can we see these in three dimensions? The process Henry used to make something 4-dimensional at least somewhat see-able in three dimensions is called a stereographic projection. Mapmakers use stereographic projections to show the surface of the Earth – which is a 3-dimensional object – on a flat sheet of paper – which is a 2-dimensional object.
To do a stereographic projection, you first set the sphere on the piece of paper, or plane. It’ll touch the plane in exactly 1 point (and will probably roll around, but let’s pretend it doesn’t). Next, you draw a straight line starting at the point at the top of the sphere, directly opposite the point set on the plane, going through another point on the sphere, and mark where that line hits the plane. If you do that for every point on the sphere, you get a flat picture of the surface of the sphere. The point where the sphere was set on the plane is drawn exactly where it was set – or is fixed, as mathematicians say. The point at the top of the sphere… well, it doesn’t really have a spot on the map. Mathematicians say that this point went to infinity. Exciting!
A stereographic projection like this draws a 3-dimensional object in 2-dimensions. The stereographic projection that Henry did shows a 4-dimensional object in 3-dimensions. Henry first drew, or projected, the vertices of his 4-dimensional polytope onto a 4-dimensional sphere – or hypersphere. Then he used a stereographic projection to make a 3D model of the polytope – and printed it out! How beautiful!
Here are some more images of Henry’s 3D printed sculptures. We particularly love the juggling one.
Henry will be dropping by to answer your questions! So if you have a question for him about his sculptures, the math he does, or something else, then leave it for him in the comments.
Speaking of polyhedra, check out this site of applets for visualizing polyhedra. You can look at, spin, and get stats on all kinds of polyhedra – from the regular old cube to the majestic great stellated dodecahedron to the mindbogglingly complex uniform great rhombicosidodecahedron. You can also practice your skills with Greek prefixes and suffixes.
Finally, two Math Munches ago, we told you about some videos made by the mathematical artist George Hart. He’s the man who brought us the Yoshimoto cube. And now he’s brought us… Pentadigitation. In this video, George connects stars, knots, and rubber bands. Enjoy watching – and trying the tricks!