(Roughly) Daily

“A child[’s]…first geometrical discoveries are topological…If you ask him to copy a square or a triangle, he draws a closed circle”*…


Topology is the Silly Putty of mathematics.  Indeed, sometimes, topology is called “rubber-sheet geometry” because topologists study the properties of shapes that don’t change when an object is stretched or distorted. As Cliff Pickover explains, this leads to the creation of some pretty confounding shapes…

Mathematicians continue to invent strange objects to test their intuitions. Alexander’s horned sphere [above] is an example of a convoluted, intertwined surface for which it is difficult to define an inside and outside. Introduced by mathematician James Waddell Alexander (1888 – 1971), Alexander’s horned sphere is formed by successively growing pairs of horns that are almost interlocked and whose end points approach each other. The initial steps of the construction can be visualized with your fingers. Move the thumb and forefinger of each of your hands close to one another, then grow a smaller thumb and forefinger on each of these, and continue this budding without limit!

Although this may be hard to visualize, Alexander’s horned sphere is homeomorphic to a ball. In this case, this means that it can be stretched into a ball without puncturing or breaking it. Perhaps it is easier to visualize the reverse: stretching the ball into the horned sphere without ripping it. The boundary is, therefore, homeomorphic to a sphere…

Read more at “The Official Alexander Sphere Appreciation Page.”

* Jean Piaget


As we twist and turn, we might send artfully-folded birthday greetings to Sir Erik Christopher Zeeman; he was born on this date in 1925.  While he is probably most-widely known as a popularizer of Catastrophe Theory, his primary contributions to math have been in topology, more particularly in geometric topology (e.g., in knot theory) and in dynamical systems.  The Christopher Zeeman Medal for Communication of Mathematics of the London Mathematical Society and the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications is named in his honor.


We might also spare a thought for Satyendra Nath Bose; he died on his date in 1974.  A physicist and mathematician, he collaborated with Albert Einstein to develop a theory of statistical quantum mechanics, now called Bose-Einstein statistics.  Paul Dirac named the class of particles that obey Bose–Einstein statistics, bosons, after Bose.



Written by LW

February 4, 2015 at 1:01 am

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