Maths Bite

Maths Bite: Impossible cube

The impossible cube was invented by M.C. Escher for his 1958 print Belvedere. It is based on the Necker cube, and seems to defy the rules of geometry; on the surface resembles a perspective drawing of a 3D cube, however its features are drawn inconsistently from the way they would be in an actual cube.

The impossible cube draws upon the ambiguity present in a Necker cube illustration, in which a cube is drawn with its edges as line segments, and can be interpreted as being in either of two different three-dimensional orientations. – Wikipedia


Source: kidsmathgamesonline

How would this cube look like in real life? The below video attempts to demonstrate that.

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MATHS BITE: The Kolakoski Sequence

The Kolakoski sequence is an infinite sequence of symbols {1,2} that is its own “run-length encoding“. It is named after mathematician Willian Kolakoski who described it in 1965, but further research shows that it was first discussed by Rufus Oldenburger in 1939.

This self-describing sequence consists of blocks of single and double 1s and 2s. Each block contains digits that are different from the digit in the preceding block.

To construct the sequence, start with 1. This means that the next block is of length 1. So we require that the next block is 2, giving the sequence 1, 2. Continuing this infinitely gives us the Kolakoski sequence: 1, 2, 1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 1, 1, 2, etc.

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MATHS BITE: Apéry’s Constant

Apéry’s constant is defined as the number

{\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}\zeta (3)&=\sum _{n=1}^{\infty }{\frac {1}{n^{3}}}\\&=\lim _{n\to \infty }\left({\frac {1}{1^{3}}}+{\frac {1}{2^{3}}}+\cdots +{\frac {1}{n^{3}}}\right)\end{aligned}}}

where ζ is the Riemann Zeta Function.

This constant is named after the French mathematician Roger Apéry who proved that it was irrational in 1978. However it is still unknown whether or not it is transcendental.


The Basel Problem asked about the convergence of the following sum:
Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 2.16.05 PM.png

In the 18th century, Leonhard Euler proved that in fact it did – to π^2/6. However, the limit of the following sum remained unknown:Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 2.19.28 PM.png

Although mathematicians made some progress, including Euler who calculated the first 16 decimal digits of the sum, it was not known whether the number was rational or irrational, until Apéry.

Furthermore, it is currently not known specifically whether any other particular ζ(n), for n odd, is irrational. “The best we’ve got is from Wadim Zudilin, in 2001, who showed that at least one of ζ(5), ζ(7), ζ(9), ζ(11) must be irrational, and Tanguy Rivoal, in 2000, who showed that infinitely many of the ζ(2k+1) must be irrational.”

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MATHS BITE: Dini’s Surface

Dini’s surface, named after Ulisse Dini, is a surface with constant negative curvature that can be created by twisting a pseudosphere (see picture below).


Dini’s surface is given by the following parametric equations:

{\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}x&=a\cos u\sin v\\y&=a\sin u\sin v\\z&=a\left(\cos v+\ln \tan {\frac {v}{2}}\right)+bu\end{aligned}}}



Dini’s Surface

Dini’s surface is pictured in the upper right-hand corner of a book by Alfred Gray (1997), as well as on the cover of volume 2, number 3 of La Gaceta de la Real Sociedad Matemática Española (1999).

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MATHS BITE: The Beginning of Chaos

In 1887, King Oscar II of Norway and Sweden offered a prize for the solution of the following maths problem:

Say you have a number of celestial bodies with known mass and you know the speed and direction they are moving in at some given point in time. Use Newton’s laws of motion and the universal law of gravitation to calculate the trajectories of the bodies.

After three years, the French mathematician Henri Poincaré, who restricted himself to the case where there are just three bodies, won the prize.

However, after winning the prize, Poincaré noticed a flaw in his solution putting him in an embarrassing position, as his manuscript was to be published for the King’s birthday within a few weeks’ time!

In his attempt to correct his work, Poincaré discovered that even this simple problem suffered from the Butterfly Effect: “sensitive dependence on initial conditions“. This means that the smallest variation in the initial values can build up over time to create massive discrepancies in the trajectories. Hence, you cannot reliably predict the motion of planets over time, as you can’t know the initial values with an infinite degree of accuracy.

With this discovery, Poincaré laid the foundations for Chaos theory.

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MATHS BITE: The Cantor Set

The Cantor Set is constructed in the following way:

Start with the interval [0,1]. Next, remove the open middle third interval, which gives you two line segments [0,1/3] and [2/3,1]. Again, remove the middle third for each remaining interval, which leaves you now with 4 intervals. Repeat this final step ad infinitum.


The points in [0,1] that do not eventually get removed in the procedure form the Cantor set.

How many points are there in the Cantor Set?

Consider the diagram below:

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 8.05.41 PM.png

An interval from each step has been coloured in red, and each red interval (apart from the top one) lies underneath another red interval. This nested sequence shrinks down to a point, which is contained in every one of the red intervals, and hence is a member of the Cantor set. In fact, each point in the Cantor set corresponds to a unique infinite sequence of nested intervals.

To label a point in the Cantor set according to the path of red intervals that is taken to reach it, label each point by an infinite sequence consisting of 0s and 1s.

A 0 in the nth position symbolises that the point lies in the left hand interval after the nth stage in the Cantor process.

A in the nth position symbolises that the point lies in the right hand interval after the nth stage in the Cantor process.

For example, the point 0 in [0,1] is represented by the sequence 0000…., the point 1 is represented by the sequence 1111…. and the point 1/3 is represented by the sequence 01111….

So, as there are infinite sequences consisting of 0s and 1s, there are an infinite number of elements in the Cantor set. If we place a point before any one of these infinite sequences, for example 0100010… becomes .0100010…, then we convert an infinite sequence of 0s and 1s to the binary expansion of a real number between 0 and 1. This means that the number of points in the Cantor set is the same as the number of points in the interval [0,1]. We conclude that the infinite process of removing middle thirds from the interval [0,1] has no effect on the number of points in [0,1]!

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