Math Patterns That Go On Forever but Never Repeat — Quanta Magazine

I wrote a column for Quanta Magazine on the recently discovered “hat tile”, the first ever aperiodic monotile!

Have you ever admired how the slats of a hardwood floor fit together so cleanly, or how the hexagons underneath your bathroom rug perfectly meet up? These are examples of geometric tilings, arrangements of shapes that fit snugly together while filling up space. Two-dimensional tilings are admired all around the world, both for their beauty — as seen in the artistry of mosaics in cathedrals and mosques around the world — and for their utility, in walls and floors everywhere.

In math, tilings are often appreciated for their regular patterns. But mathematicians also find beauty in irregularity. It’s this kind of beauty that a retired print technician was seeking when he recently discovered the first “aperiodic monotile”— a single tile that fills up the plane in a non-repeating pattern. To get a handle on this big discovery, let’s start by thinking about a simpler problem: how to tile a line.

You can read the full article for free here.

The Geometry of Brownie Bake Offs — Quanta Magazine

In my latest column for Quanta Magazine I combine my love of geometric dissections with my appreciation of The Great British Bake Off.

Gina the geometry student stayed up too late last night doing her homework while watching The Great British Bake Off, so when she finally went to bed her sleepy mind was still full of cupcakes and compasses. This led to a most unusual dream.

There’s a remarkable result in geometry that any two polygons of equal area are “scissors congruent”. In my column I explain what this means, why it’s true, and how it connects to some recent research about a famous impossible problem!

You can read the full article here.

Teaching Triangle Angle Sum

The Triangle Angle Sum Theorem is one of my favorite topics in Geometry class. It’s a foundational fact about triangles, and in geometry, every problem is a problem about triangles.

I love the standard proof of the theorem, where a line is constructed through a vertex that is parallel to the opposing side. It highlights the crucial role that parallel lines play in our conception of geometry, and it points to the assumptions we make about them as well. With a little nudge, this standard proof is eminently discoverable, and makes for a great classroom activity.

But I also love showing students some non-standard proofs of the theorem. Here’s a demonstration I built in Geogebra meant to mimic a paper folding activity that shows how the angles of a triangle form a straight line.

You should do it with actual paper, too! Here’s a short video. Stick around for the bonus tearing at the end!

Apart from being fun and surprising, what I like about these demonstrations is how they illuminate something important and essential about result: It’s the straight line, not the number 180, that’s important. Plus, the tearing activity works with more than just triangles! Unfortunately it’s not so adaptable to spherical geometry, but that’s another lesson.

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