From the exquisite patterns of the Alhambra palace in Spain to a jigsaw puzzle on a rainy day, tessellations (tilings of the plane using shapes with no overlaps or gaps) are everywhere. They are sometimes used for practical reasons: providing durable and water-resistant surfaces, or for efficiencies of space (like hexagons in a honeycomb). And sometimes they are there for aesthetic reasons: tessellations are known to have been used in architecture since at least 4000BC when the Sumerians decorated walls with patterns of clay tiles. Continue reading
The golden ratio (1.6180339…) has a rather overblown reputation as a mathematical path to aesthetic beauty. It is often claimed that this number is a magic constant hidden in everything from flowers to human faces. In truth, this is an exaggeration, but the number does however have some beautiful properties.
The golden ratio, often written $\phi$, is equal to $(1+\sqrt5)/2$, and is one of the solutions of the equation $x^2=x+1$. The other solution of the equation is $(1-\sqrt5)/2$, or $-1/\phi$. One of the nicest properties of the golden ratio is self-similarity: if a square is removed from a golden rectangle (a rectangle with side lengths in the golden ratio), then the remaining rectangle will also be golden. By repeatedly drawing these squares on the remaining rectangle, we can draw a golden spiral. Continue reading
Quantum mechanics has a reputation.
It’s notorious for being obtuse, difficult, confusing, and unintuitive. That reputation is… entirely deserved. I work on quantum systems full time for my job and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the mysteries it contains. But one other feature of quantum mechanics that’s often overlooked is how beautiful it can be.
So, for the cover of this issue, I wanted to share one aspect of quantum mechanics that I think is stunning. It’s a certain set of solutions to a differential equation: the orbitals of an electron in a hydrogen atom. Continue reading
Throughout my life I have made an informal study of natural phenomena, through drawing or just looking, in a spirit of curiosity. This long but unsystematic practice has given me an impression of the world around us as a dynamic and fertile system, driven by a ubiquitous tendency for spontaneous pattern formation (best understood in terms of the laws of physics) mitigated by an equally strong tendency for seemingly random variation.
It could be argued that the evolutionary process itself is driven by this tension between pattern and randomness, structure and chaos, order and disorder, theme and variation; without random mutation there would be stasis. Continue reading
Take a long strip of paper. Fold it in half in the same direction a few times. Unfold it and look at the shape the edge of the paper makes. If you folded the paper $n$ times, then the edge will make an order $n$ dragon curve, so called because it faintly resembles a dragon. Each of the curves shown on the cover of issue 05 of Chalkdust, and in the header box above, is an order 10 dragon curve.
In the brief tradition of Chalkdust cover articles there is a developing discussion of how mathematics and art are related.
Art is simply the making of representations. Art happens when a person has an idea or a vision that exists in their imagination (the mind’s eye) and is impelled to communicate said idea by making a visible manifestation (representation) of it in the material world. The idea or vision on its own is not art. Art occurs amid the struggle to make a representation of the idea that the artist can show to other people. Art may be relatively `fine’ or popular, conceptual or objective, highbrow or applied, yet still fall within this definition. Judgements about the quality of art are made largely by consensus among the cognoscenti in a given art milieu. These judgements are subject to change over time as the perception of works of art are always modified by the current `cultural environment’ and fashion. Continue reading
We are surrounded by complex structures and systems that appear to be lawless and disorderly. Mathematicians try to look for patterns in the seemingly chaotic behaviour and build models that are simple, and yet have the capacity to accurately predict the reality around us. But can a scientific or mathematical model have any artistic value? It seems that the answer is yes. There is a group of digital and algorithmic artists that use science and computational mathematics to create visual art. However, there is an even smaller group of people whose art and science coincide. Meet Mark J Stock. Continue reading
Suman Vaze sits on her small balcony in crowded, bustling Hong Kong, with a view, just about, of a beautiful Chinese Banyan tree tenaciously growing on a steep stony slope, and paints mathematics. Inspired by the abstract expressionism of Rothko, the radical and influential work of Picasso, and the experimental models of Calder, she fully embodies Hardy’s belief that mathematicians are ‘maker[s] of patterns’. Our front cover is one of her pieces: the bold colours proclaim the eponymous Fermat Point – the point that minimises the total distance to each vertex of a triangle – along with its geometrical construction. Add an equilateral triangle to each side of the original triangle then draw a line connecting the new vertex of the equilateral triangle to the opposite vertex of the original: the intersection of these lines gives the Fermat point. Not only do these lines all have the same length, but the circumscribed circles of the three equilateral triangles will also intersect at the Fermat point.
This issue’s cover picture is a creation of Anthony Lee, a young British artist, who has always been fascinated by exploring the possibilities of creating images through light. In Anthony’s eyes, this experimental process is the result of “the idea of an ephemeral substance or state, the idea that the captured moment was never intended to last or be repeated. In my light images neither the light nor the shape can last and yet they stay captured in the image I present.”
It is interesting to notice where both the artistic and scientific processes intersect and interact with each other – and where they do not. The artist, Anthony, is looking for a way to use scientific knowledge to express his personal emotions and inner thrills; and the resultant art is the outcome and purpose that elevates and distinguishes the science. And yet Anthony is bending and filling reality with his own meanings – his “ephemeral” ideas of light and shape – that are changeable and unique to him. Contrast this with the aims of scientists, who look for permanent truths that affect every observer, irrespective of their uniqueness in this space-time continuum.