Tag Archives: topology

Lucea, Fiber Bundles, and Hamilton

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

The Summer Olympics are underway in Brazil. I have loved the Olympics since I was a kid. The opening ceremony is one of my favorite parts—the celebration of the host country’s history and culture, the athletes proudly marching in and representing their homeland. And the big moment when the Olympic cauldron is lit! This year I was just so delighted by the sculpture that acted as the cauldron’s backdrop.

Isn’t that amazing! The title of this enormous metal sculpture is Lucea, and it was created by American sculptor Anthony Howe. You can read about Anthony and how he came to make Lucea for the Olympics in this article. Here’s one quote from Anthony:

“I hope what people take away from the cauldron, the Opening Ceremonies, and the Rio Games themselves is that there are no limits to what a human being can accomplish.”

Here’s another view of Lucea from Anthony’s website:

Lucea is certainly hypnotizing in its own right, but I think it jumped out at me in part because I’ve been thinking a lot about fiber bundles recently. A fiber bundle is a “twist” on a simpler kind of object called a product space. You are familiar with some examples of products spaces. A square is a line “times” a line. A cylinder is a line “times” a circle. And a torus is a circle “times” a circle.


Square, cylinder, and torus.

So, what does it mean to introduce a “twist” to a product space? Well, it means that while every little patch of your object will look like a product, the whole thing gets glued up in some fancy way. So, instead of a cylinder that goes around all normal, we can let the line factor do a flip as it goes around the circle and voila—a Mobius strip!


Now, check out this image:


It’s two Mobius strips stuck together! Does this remind you of Lucea?! Instead of a line “times” a circle that’s been twisted, we have an X shape “times” a circle.

Do you think you could fill up all of space with an infinity of circles? You might try your hand at it. One answer to this puzzle is a wonderful example of a fiber bundle called the Hopf fibration. Just as you can think about a circle as a line plus one extra point to close it up, and a sphere as a plane with one extra point to close it up, the three-sphere is usual three-dimenional space plus one extra point. The Hopf fibration shows that the three-sphere is a twisted product of a sphere “times” a circle. For a really lovely visualization of this fact, check out this video:

That is some tough but also gorgeous mathematics. Since you’ve made it this far in the post, I definitely think you deserve to indulge and maybe rock out a little. And what’s the hottest ticket on Broadway this summer? I hope you’ll enjoy this superb music video about Hamilton!

William Rowan Hamilton, that is. The inventor of quaternions, explorer of Hamiltonian circuits, and reformulator of physics. Brilliant.

citymapHere are a couple of pages of Hamiltonian circuit puzzles. The goal is to visit every dot exactly once as you draw one continuous path. Try them out! Rio, where the Olympics is happening, pops up as a dot in the first one. You might even try your hand at making some Hamiltonian puzzles of your own.

Happy puzzling, and bon appetit!

Zippergons, High Fashion, and Really Big Numbers

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Bill Thurston

Bill Thurston

Recently I attended a conference in memory of Bill Thurston. Bill was one of the most imaginative and influential mathematicians of the second half of the twentieth century. He worked with many mathematicians on projects and had many students before he passed away in the fall of 2012 at the age of 65. You can read Bill’s obituary in the New York Times here.

Bill worked where geometry and topology meet. In fact, Bill throughout his career showed that there are rich connections between the two fields that no one thought was possible. For instance, it’s an amazing fact that every surface—no matter how bumpy or holey or twisted—can be given a nice, symmetric curvature. A uniform geometry, it’s called. This was proven by Henri Poincaré in 1907. It was thought that 3D spaces would be far too complicated to be behave according to a similar rule. But Bill had a vision and a conjecture—that every 3D space can be divided into parts that can be given uniform geometries. To give you a flavor of these ideas, here’s a video of Bill describing some unusual and fabulous 3D spaces.

Any surface can be given a nice, symmetric geometry.

Any surface can be given a uniform geometry. Even a bunny. Another video.

As you can probably tell, visualizing and experiencing math was very important to Bill. He even taught a course with John Conway called Geometry and the Imagination. Bill often used computers to help himself see the math he was thinking about, and he enjoyed making hands-on models as well. Beginning in spring of 2010, Bill and Kelly Delp of Ithaca College worked out an idea. Usually all of the curving or turning of a polyhedron is concentrated at the vertices. Most of a cube is flat, but there’s a whole lot of pinch at the corners. What if you could spread that pinching out along the edges? And if you could, wouldn’t longer and perhaps wiggly edges help spread it even better? Yes and yes! You can see some examples of these “zippergons” that Bill and Kelly imagined and made in this gallery and read about them in their Bridges article.

A zippergon based on an octahedron.

A paper octahedron zippergon.


A foam icosadodecahedron zippergon.

One of Bill’s last collaborations happened not with a mathematician but with a fashion designer. Dai Fujiwara, a noted creator of high fashion in Tokyo, got inspired by some of Bill’s illustrations. In collaboration with Bill, Dai created eight outfits. Each one was based on one of the eight Thurston geometries. You can see the result of their work together in this video and read more about it in this article.

Isn’t it amazing how creative minds in very different fields can learn from each other and create something together?

Richard Evan Schwartz (self-portrait)

Richard Evan Schwartz (self-portrait)

Richard Evan Schwartz was one of the speakers at the conference honoring Bill. Rich studied with Bill at Princeton and now is a math professor at Brown University.

Like Bill, Rich’s work can be highly visual and playful, and he often taps the power of computers to visualize and analyze mathematical structures. There’s lots to explore on Rich’s website. Check out these applets he has made, including ones on Poncelet’s Porism, the Euclidean algorithm (previously), and a game called Lucy & Lily (JAVA required). I love how Rich shares some of his earliest applet-making efforts, like Click On A Triangle To Change Its Color. It’s motivating to see that even an accomplished mathematician like Rich began with the basics of programming—a place where any of us can start!

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 2.54.37 AMOn Rich’s site you’ll also find information about his project “Counting on Monsters“. And you should definitely make time to read some of the conversations that Rich has had with his five-year-old daughter Lucy.

Recently Rich published a wonderful new book for kids called “Really Big Numbers“. It is a colorful romp through larger and larger numbers and layers of abstraction, with evocative images to light the way. Check out the trailer for “Really Big Numbers” below!

Do you have a question for Rich—about his book, or about the math that he does, or about his life, or about Bill? Then send it to us in the form below and we’ll try to include it in our interview with him!

EDIT: Thanks for all your questions! Our Q&A with Rich will be posted soon.

Diana and Rich

Diana and Rich

Diana and Bill

Diana and Bill

Bill taught Rich, and Rich in turn taught Diana Davis, whose Dance Your PhD video we featured a while back. In fact, Bill’s influence on mathematics can be seen throughout many of our posts on Math Munch. Bill collaborated with Daina Taimina on hyperbolic crochet projects. He taught Jeff Weeks and helped inspire the games and software Jeff created. Bill oversaw the production of the film Outside In about the eversion of a sphere. He even coined the mathematical term “pair of pants.”

Bill’s vision of mathematics will live on in many people. That could include you, if you’d like. It’s just as Bill wrote:

In short, mathematics only exists in a living community of mathematicians that spreads understanding and breaths life into ideas both old and new.

Bon appetit!

Linking Newspaper Rings, Pascal’s Colors, and Poetry of Math

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Here’s something that sounds impossible: turn a single newspaper page into two rings, linked together, using only scissors and folding. No tape, no glue– just folding and a few little cuts.

Want to know how to do it? Check out this video by Mariano Tomatis:

On his website, Mariano calls himself the “Wonder Injector,” a “writer of science with the mission of the magician.” And that video certainly looked like magic! I wonder how the trick works…

Mariano’s website is full of fun videos involving mathe-magical tricks. I like watching them, being completely baffled, and then figuring out how the trick works. Here’s another one that I really like, about a fictional plane saved from crashing. It’s a little creepy.

How does this trick work???

Next up is one of my favorite number pattern — Pascal’s Triangle. Pascal’s Triangle appears all over mathematics– from algebra to combinatorics to number theory.

Pascal’s Triangle always starts with a 1 at the top. To make more rows, you add together two numbers next to each other and put their sum between them in the row below. For example, see the two threes beside each other in the fourth row? They add to 6, which is placed between them in the fifth row.

Pascal’s Triangle is full of interesting patterns (what can you find?)– but my favorite patterns appear when you color the numbers according to their factors.

That’s just what Brent Yorgey, computer programmer and author of the blog “The Math Less Travelled,” did! Here’s what you get if you color all of the numbers that are multiples of 2 gray and all of the numbers that aren’t multiples of 2 blue.

Recognize that pattern? It’s a Sierpinski triangle fractal!

If you thought that was cool, check out this one based on what happens if you divide all the numbers in the triangle by 5. The multiples of 5 are gray; the numbers that leave a remainder of 1 when divided by 5 are blue, remainder 2 are red, remainder 3 are yellow, and remainder 4 are green. And here’s one based on what happens if you divide all the numbers in the triangle by 6.

See the yellow Sierpinski triangle below the blue, red, green, and purple pattern? Why might the pattern for multiples of two appear in the triangle colored based on multiples of 6?

If you want to learn more about how Brent made these images and want to see more of them, check out his blog post, “Visualizing Pascal’s Triangle Remainders.”

Finally, I just stumbled across this collection of mathematical poems written by students at Arcadia University, in a class called “Mathematics in Literature.” They’re the result of a workshop led by mathematician and poet Sarah Glaz, who I met this summer at the Bridges Mathematical Art Conference. Sarah gave the students this prompt:

Step1: Brainstorm three recent school or other situations in your

present life – you can just write a few words to reference them.

Step 2: List 10-20 mathematical words you’ve used in class in the
past month.

Step 3: Write about one of the previous situations using as many
of these words as possible. Try to avoid referencing the situation
directly. Write no more than seven words per line.

Here’s one that I like:

ASPARAGUS, by Sarah Goldfarb

An infinity of hunger within me
Dividing a bunch of green
Snap and sizzle,
Green parentheses in a pan
The aromatic property
Simplifying my want
Producing a need
Each fraction of a second
Dragging its feet impatiently as I wait
And when it is distributed on my plate
It is only a moment before zero
Units of nourishment remain.

Maybe you’ll try writing a poem of your own! If you do, we’d love to see it.

Bon appetit!

Bridges, Unfolding the Earth, and Juggling

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch – from the Netherlands!

I’m at the Bridges Mathematical Art Conference, which this year is being held in Enschede, a city in the Netherlands. I’ve seen so much beautiful mathematical artwork, met so many wonderful people, and learned so many interesting new things that I can’t wait to start sharing them with you! In the next few weeks, expect many more interviews and links to sites by some of the world’s best mathematical artists.

But first, have a look at some of the artwork from this year’s art gallery at Bridges.

Hyperbolic lampshade

By Gabriele Meyer


By Henry Segerman and Craig Kaplan

Here are three pieces that I really love. The first is a crocheted hyperbolic plane lampshade. I love to crochet hyperbolic planes (and we’ve posted about them before), and I think the stitching and lighting on this one is particularly good. The second is a bunny made out of the word bunny! (Look at it very closely and you’ll see!) It was made by one of my favorite mathematical artists, Henry Segerman. Check back soon for an interview with him!

Hexagonal flower

By Francisco De Comite

This last is a curious sculpture. From afar, it looks like white arcs surrounding a metal ball, but up close you see the reflection of the arcs in the ball – which make a hexagonal flower! I love how this piece took me by surprise and played with the different ways objects look in different dimensions.

Jack van WijkMathematical artists also talk about their work at Bridges, and one of the talks I attended was by Jack van Wijk, a professor from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. Jack works with data visualization and often uses a mixture of math and images to solve complicated problems.

One of the problems Jack tackled was the age-old problem of drawing an accurate flat map of the Earth. The Earth, as we all now know, is a sphere – so how do you make a map of it that fits on a rectangular piece of paper that shows accurate sizes and distances and is simple to read?

myriahedronTo do this, Jack makes what he calls a myriahedral projection. First, he draws many, many polygons onto the surface of the Earth – making what he calls a myriahedron, or a polyhedron with a myriad of faces. cylindrical mapThen, he decides how to cut the myriahedron up. This can be done in many different ways depending on how he wants the map to look. If he wants the map to be a nice, normal rectangle, maybe he’ll cut many narrow, pointed slits at the North and South Poles to make a map much like one we’re used to. But, maybe he wants a map that groups all the continents together or does the opposite and emphasizes how the oceans are connected…crazy maps

Jack made a short movie that he submitted to the Bridges gallery. He animates the transformation of the Earth to the map projections beautifully.

Jack’s short movie wasn’t the only great film I saw at Bridges. The usual suspects – Vi Hart and her father, George Hart – also submitted movies. George’s movie is about a math topic that I find particularly fascinating: juggling! The movie stars professional juggler Rod Kimball. Click on the picture below to watch:


This is only the tip of the iceberg that is the gorgeous and interesting artwork I saw at Bridges. Check out the gallery to see more (including artwork by our own Paul and a video by Paul and Justin!), or visit Math Munch again in the coming weeks to learn more about some of the artists.

Bon appetit!

“Happy Birthday, Euler!”, Project Euler, and Pants

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

Did you see the Google doodle on Monday?

Leonhard Euler Google doodleThis medley of Platonic solids, graphs, and imaginary numbers honors the birthday of mathematician and physicist Leonhard Euler. (His last name is pronounced “Oiler.” Confusing because the mathematician Euclid‘s name is not pronounced “Oiclid.”) Many mathematicians would say that Euler was the greatest mathematician of all time – if you look at almost any branch of mathematics, you’ll find a significant contribution made by Euler.

480px-Leonhard_Euler_2Euler was born on April 15, 1707, and he spent much of his life working as a mathematician for one of the most powerful monarchs ever, Frederick the Great of Prussia. In Euler’s time, the kings and queens of Europe had resident mathematicians, philosophers, and scientists to make their countries more prestigious.  The monarchs could be moody, so mathematicians like Euler had to be careful to keep their benefactors happy. (Which, sadly, Euler did not. After almost 20 years, Frederick the Great’s interests changed and he sent Euler away.) But, the academies helped mathematicians to work together and make wonderful discoveries.

Want to read some of Euler’s original papers? Check out the Euler Archive. Here’s a little bit of an essay called, “Discovery of a Most Extraordinary Law of Numbers, Relating to the Sum of Their Divisors,” which you can find under the subject “Number Theory”:

Mathematicians have searched so far in vain to discover some order in the progression of prime numbers, and we have reason to believe that it is a mystery which the human mind will never be able to penetrate… This situation is all the more surprising since arithmetic gives us unfailing rules, by means of which we can continue the progression of these numbers as far as we wish, without however leaving us the slightest trace of any order.

Mathematicians still find this baffling today! If you’re interested in dipping your toes into Euler’s writings, I’d suggest checking out other articles in “Number Theory,” such as “On Amicable Numbers,” or some articles in “Combinatorics and Probability,” like “Investigations on a New Type of Magic Square.”

pe_banner_lightWant to work, like Euler did, on important math problems that will stretch you to make connections and discoveries? Check out Project Euler, an online set of math and computer programming problems. You can join the site and, as you work on the problems, talk to other problem-solvers, contribute your solutions, and track your progress. The problems aren’t easy – the first one on the list is, “Find the sum of all the multiples of 3 and 5 below 1000” – but they build on one another (and are pretty fun).


Pants made from a crocheted model of the hyperbolic plane, by Daina Taimina.

Finally, if someone asked you what a pair of pants is, you probably wouldn’t say, “a sphere with three open disks removed.” But maybe you also didn’t know that pants are important mathematical objects!

I ran into a math problem involving pants on Math Overflow (previously). Math Overflow is a site on which mathematicians can ask and answer each other’s questions. The question I’m talking about was asked by Tony Huynh. He knew it was possible to turn pants inside-out if your feet are tied together. (Check out the video below to see it done!) Tony was wondering if it’s possible to turn your pants around, so that you’re wearing them backwards, if your feet are tied together.

Is this possible? Another mathematician answered Tony’s question – but maybe you want to try it yourself before reading about the solution. Answering questions like this about transformations of surfaces with holes in them is part of a branch of mathematics called topology – which Euler is partly credited with starting. A more mathematical way of stating this problem is: is it possible to turn a torus (or donut) with a single hole in it inside-out? Here’s another video, by James Tanton, about turning things inside-out mathematically.

Bon appetit!

MMteam-240x240P.S. – The Math Munch team will be speaking next weekend, on April 27th, at TEDxNYED! We’re really excited to get to tell the story of Math Munch on the big stage. Thank you for being such enthusiastic and curious readers and allowing us to share our love of math with you. Maybe we’ll see some of you there!

The Museum of Math, Shapes That Roll, and Mime-matics

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!  We have so many exciting things to share with you this week – so let’s get started!

Something very exciting to math lovers all over the world happened on Saturday.  The Museum of Mathematics opened its doors to the public!

MoMath entranceThe Museum of Mathematics (affectionately called MoMath – and that’s certainly what you’ll get if you go there) is in the Math Munch team’s hometown, New York City.

human treeThere are so many awesome exhibits that I hardly know where to start.  But if you go, be sure to check out one of my favorite exhibits, Twist ‘n Roll.  In this exhibit, you roll some very interestingly shaped objects along a slanted table – and investigate the twisty paths that they take.  And you can’t leave without seeing the Human Tree, where you turn yourself into a fractal tree.

coaster rollersOr going for a ride on Coaster Rollers, one of the most surprising exhibits of all.  In this exhibit, you ride in a cart over a track covered with shapes that MoMath calls “acorns.”  The “acorns” aren’t spheres – and yet your ride over them is completely smooth!  That’s because these acorns, like spheres, are surfaces of constant width.  That means that if you pick two points on opposite ends of the acorn – with “opposite” meaning points that you could hold between your hands while your hands are parallel to each other – the distance between those points is the same regardless of the points you choose.  See some surfaces of constant width in action in this video:

Rouleaux_triangle_AnimationOne such surface of constant width is the shape swept out by rotating a shape called a Reuleaux triangle about one of its axes of symmetry.  Much as an acorn is similar to a sphere, a Reuleaux triangle is similar to a circle.  It has constant diameter, and therefore rolls nicely inside of a square.  The cart that you ride in on Coaster Rollers has the shape of a Reuleaux triangle – so you can spin around as you coast over the rollers!

Maybe you don’t live in New York, so you won’t be able to visit the museum anytime soon.  Or maybe you want a little sneak-peek of what you’ll see when you get there.  In any case, watch this video made by mathematician, artist, and video-maker George Hart on his first visit to the museum.  George also worked on planning and designing the exhibits in the museum.

We got the chance to interview Emily Vanderpol, the Outreach Exhibits coordinator for MoMath, and Melissa Budinic, the Assistant Exhibit Designer for MoMath.  As Cindy Lawrence, the Associate Director for MoMath says, “MoMath would not be open today if it were not for the efforts” of Emily and Melissa.  Check out Melissa and Emily‘s interviews to read about their favorite exhibits, how they use math in their jobs for MoMath, and what they’re most excited about now that the museum is open!

mimematicsLogo (1)Finally, meet Tim and Tanya Chartier.  Tim is a math professor at Davidson College in North Carolina, and Tanya is a language and literacy educator.  Even better, Tim and Tanya have combined their passion for math and teaching with their love of mime to create the art of Mime-matics!  Tim and Tanya have developed a mime show in which they mime about some important concepts in mathematics.  Tim says about their mime-matics, “Mime and math are a natural combination.  Many mathematical ideas fold into the arts like shape and space.  Further, other ideas in math are abstract themselves.  Mime visualizes the invisible world of math which is why I think math professor can sit next to a child and both get excited!”

One of my favorite skits, in which the mime really does help you to visualize the invisible world of math, is the Infinite Rope.  Check it out:

slinkyIn another of my favorite skits, Tanya interacts with a giant tube that twists itself in interesting topological ways.  Watch these videos and maybe you’ll see, as Tanya says, how a short time “of positive experiences with math, playing with abstract concepts, or seeing real live application of math in our world (like Google, soccer, music, NASCAR, or the movies)  can change the attitude of an audience member who previously identified him/herself as a “math-hater.””  You can also check out Tim’s blog, Math Movement.

Tim and Tanya kindly answered some questions we asked them about their mime-matics.  Check out their interview by following this link, or visit the Q&A page.

Bon appetit!

Domino Computer, Knitting, and Election MArTH

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!

First up this week is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time: the world’s largest computer made out of dominoes.  A computer made out of dominoes?! you say.  How??

The Domputer, as it’s been called, was the great idea of mathematician, teacher, and entertainer Matt Parker (see a previous post about Matt here), and he and many volunteers built it at the Manchester Science Festival at the end of October.

Matt and some of his teammates testing domino circuits.

So, what is a domino computer, and how does it work?  As Matt is quoted saying in a podcast that featured the project, “A domino computer is exactly that: a computer made out of chains of dominoes.  Flicking over one domino sends a signal racing along the chain, just like current flows down a wire.  And then interacting lines of dominoes can manipulate the signal exactly the way circuit components do.”

At its very, very basic level, a computer is a machine that does calculations in binary.  You input some sequence of 0s and 1s by flipping signals on and off, and your input starts a chain of electrical communications that results in an output of 0s and 1s.  Most computers do this with electrical circuits.  But it can also be done with dominoes – sending an “on” signal means flipping a domino over, and sending an “off” signal means not flipping a domino, or having a chain of falling dominoes that becomes blocked and stops falling.

Making the domputer.

There are lots of different kinds of commands that you can send by flipping switches on and off and making those signals interact.  For example, suppose you want something to happen only if two switches are on – if the first switch is on AND the second switch is on.  For this you would need to make something called an “AND gate” – an interaction in chains of current that will continue the chain if both switches are on and will stop the chain if either (or both) is off.  How would you do that with dominoes?  In this video, Matt demonstrates how to make an AND gate out of dominoes: Domino AND gate.  Check out this video for OR (the chain continues if one or the other or both are on) and XOR (“exclusive or,” the chain continues if one or the other, but not both, are on) gates:

Matt’s Domputer does something very simple: it adds numbers in binary.  But, as you might imagine, it was extremely complicated to build!  According to the Manchester Science Festival Twitter feed, the Domputer used about 10,000 dominoes and would take about 13,600 years to do what a normal processor could do in a second.  Wow!

Here it is in action.  It messed up on this calculation (9+3), but succeeded in later attempts – and is fascinating to watch nonetheless!


Next up, we’ve written about mathematical knitting before (remember Wooly Thoughts and the prime factorization sweater?), but here’s a great site I recently found made by mathematician, knitter, and dancer Sarah-Marie Belcastro.

This site is full of articles and about and patterns for all kinds of cool mathematical objects – like Klein bottles (which make great hats, by the way)!  In her post about knitted Klein bottles (and all of the other objects she makes), Sarah-Marie not only describes how to knit the objects but a lot of mathematics about them.  I don’t know about you, but I always find mathematical ideas easier to understand when I can make models of them, or at least read about models being made.  Sarah-Marie does a great job of blending mathematical descriptions with how-to-make-it recipes.

Some other patterns that I love are Sarah-Marie’s 8-colored two-hole torus pants and this knitted trefoil knot.

Finally, are you wondering what to do with all those campaign posters you have left over from the election?  Here’s George Hart’s take on what to do with them:

Bon appetit!