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70
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4answers
3k views

Light rays bouncing in twisted tubes

Imagine a smooth curve $c$ sweeping out a unit-radius disk that is orthogonal to the curve at every point. Call the result a tube. I want to restrict the radius of curvature of $c$ to be at most 1. I ...
58
votes
2answers
3k views

Light reflecting off Christmas-tree balls

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53
votes
3answers
4k views

Is the sphere the only surface all of whose projections are circles? Or: Can we deduce a spherical Earth by observing that its shadows on the Moon are always circular?

Several ancient arguments suggest a curved Earth, such as the observation that ships disappear mast-last over the horizon, and Eratosthenes' surprisingly accurate calculation of the size of the Earth ...
46
votes
4answers
3k views

Tying knots with reflecting lightrays

Let a lightray bounce around inside a cube whose faces are (internal) mirrors. If its slopes are rational, it will eventually form a cycle. For example, starting with a point $p_0$ in the interior of ...
43
votes
8answers
5k views

Fair but irregular polyhedral dice

I am interested in determining a collection of geometric conditions that will guarantee that a convex polyhedron of $n$ faces is a fair die in the sense that, upon random rolling, it has an equal ...
38
votes
6answers
3k views

What do Weierstrass points look like?

As somebody who mostly works with smooth, real manifolds, I've always been a little uncomfortable with Weierstrass points. Smooth manifolds are totally homogeneous, but in the complex category you ...
34
votes
4answers
2k views

The maximum of a polynomial on the unit circle

Encouraged by the progress made in a recently posted MO problem, here is a "conceptually related" problem originating from a 2003 joint paper of Sergei Konyagin and myself. Suppose we are given $n$ ...
32
votes
10answers
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Is there a mathematical axiomatization of time (other than, perhaps, entropy)?

Since Euclid's axiomatization of space, we have developed a sophisticated mathematical model of space. Given a category of structures (measures), local space is modeled the spectrum of measurements ...
29
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6answers
2k views

Is it possible to partition $\mathbb R^3$ into unit circles?

Is it possible to partition $\mathbb R^3$ into unit circles?
28
votes
4answers
2k views

$\exists$ a shot in ideal pocket billiards?

Assume you have one shot with the cue ball in pocket billiards (a.k.a. pool), with the game idealized in that no spin is placed on the cue ball in the initial shot, all collisions between billiard ...
28
votes
3answers
1k views

“Softness” vs “rigidity” in Geometry

According to common wisdom, there are structures in Geometry that have a more "topological" flavor, others that are more "geometrical", and others that are halfway between. Usually, geometries${}^*$ ...
27
votes
4answers
751 views

Can every $\mathbb{Z}^2$ disk be pinball-reached?

Let every point of $\mathbb{Z}^2$ be surrounded by a mirrored disk of radius $r < \frac{1}{2}$, except leave the origin $(0,0)$ unoccupied by a disk. Q. Is it the case that every disk can be ...
25
votes
9answers
3k views

Why is the Laplacian ubiquitous?

The title says it all. I'm wondering why the Laplacian appears everywhere, e.g. number theory, Riemannian geometry, quantum mechanics, and representation theory. And people seems to care about their ...
25
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5answers
3k views

Why is Fourier analysis so handy for proving the isoperimetric inequality?

I have just completed an introductory course on analysis, and have been looking over my notes for the year. For me, although it was certainly not the most powerful or important theorem which we ...
23
votes
2answers
760 views

The kissing number of a square, cube, hypercube?

How many nonoverlapping unit squares can (nonoverlappingly) touch one unit square? By "nonoverlapping" I mean: not sharing an interior point. By "touch" I mean: sharing a boundary point. ...
23
votes
7answers
4k views

Is there a generalisation of the “sunflower spiral” to higher dimensions?

There is a well known pattern that turns up in nature involving the golden ratio $\phi = \frac{\sqrt{5}-1}{2}$. To get this "sunflower spiral" pattern, put the $k$th node at an angle of $2\pi \phi ...
22
votes
3answers
3k views

Sheaves and bundles in differential geometry

Because the theory of sheaves is a functorial theory, it has been adopted in algebraic geometry (both using the functor of points approach and the locally ringed space approach) as the "main theory" ...
22
votes
2answers
917 views

Geometry of complex elliptic curves

Is there an elliptic curve in CP^2 whose induced Remannian metric ( induced from the Fubini-Sudy metric on CP^2) is Euclidian flat?
22
votes
2answers
1k views

Why is the half-torus rigid?

The half-torus surface that results from slicing a torus like a bagel, depicted below (left), is isometrically rigid.       I know this from a remark of Alexandrov in Mathematics: ...
21
votes
5answers
1k views

What is a good method to find random points on the n-sphere when n is large?

As part of a more complex algorithm, I need a fast method to find random points of the n-sphere, $S^n$, starting with a RNG (random number generator). A simple way to do this (in low dimensions at ...
21
votes
7answers
2k views

Rolle's theorem in n dimensions

This looks like a statement from a calculus textbook, which perhaps it should be. "Rolle's theorem". Let $F\colon [a,b]\to\mathbb R^n$ be a continuous function such that F(a)=F(b) and F'(t) exists ...
21
votes
3answers
2k views

Parabolic envelope of fireworks

The envelope of parabolic trajectories from a common launch point is itself a parabola. In the U.S. this weekend many will have a chance to observe this fact direcly, as the 4th of July is ...
20
votes
5answers
804 views

Iterated Circumcircle

Take three noncollinear points (a,b,c), compute the center of their circumcircle x, and replace a random one of a,b,c with x. Repeat. It seems this process may converge to a point, assuming no ...
20
votes
2answers
903 views

Forbidden mirror sequences

Let $\cal{M}$ be a finite collection of two-sided mirrors, each an open unit-length segment in $\mathbb{R^2}$, and such that the segments when closed are disjoint. A ray of light that reflects off the ...
20
votes
2answers
1k views

Functions whose gradient-descent paths are geodesics

Let $f(x,y)$ define a surface $S$ in $\mathbb{R}^3$ with a unique local minimum at $b \in S$. Suppose gradient descent from any start point $a \in S$ follows a geodesic on $S$ from $a$ to $b$. (Q1.) ...
20
votes
2answers
1k views

Intuitive proof that the first (n-2) coordinates on a sphere are uniform in a ball

It is a classical fact that if $(x_1,\ldots,x_n)$ is a random vector uniformly distributed on the sphere $S^{n-1} \subseteq \mathbb{R}^n$, then the random vector $(x_1,\ldots,x_{n-2})$ is uniformly ...
20
votes
1answer
1k views

A Weak Form of Borsuk's Conjecture

Problem: Let P be a d-dimensional polytope with n facets. Is it always true that P can be covered by n sets of smaller diameter? Background and motivation The Borsuk conjecture (disproved in ...
18
votes
3answers
2k views

What upper bounds are known for the diameter of the minimum spanning tree of $n$ uniformly random points in $[0,1]^2$?

Let $P$ be a pointset consisting of $n$ uniformly random elements of $[0,1]^2$. It is known that the diameter (greatest number of edges in any shortest path between two points) of the Delaunay ...
18
votes
3answers
1k views

Minimal surface in a ball

Assume a minimal surface $\Sigma$ has boundary on the unit sphere in the Euclidean space and $r$ is the distance from $\Sigma$ to the center of the ball. Is it true that $$\mathop{\rm area} \Sigma\ge ...
17
votes
3answers
2k views

Is there a combinatorial analogue of Ricci flow?

The question of generalising circle packing to three dimensions was asked in 65677. There is a clear consensus that there is no obvious three dimensional version of circle packing. However I have ...
17
votes
2answers
1k views

Probing a manifold with geodesics

Supposed you stand at a point $p \in M$ on a smooth 2-manifold $M$ embedded in $\mathbb{R}^3$. You do not know anything about $M$. You shoot off a geodesic $\gamma$ in some direction $u$, and learn ...
17
votes
2answers
798 views

Placing points on a sphere so that no 3 lie close to the same plane

Motivation I am working with arbitrary parallelopiped tilings given by projection from a higher dimensional space. The collection of tiles, and some properties of the higher dimensional space are ...
16
votes
4answers
2k views

Classification of PDE

Recently I have been attending a course on PDE's. I was totally ignorant of the subject and wasn't that motivated to be honest. But I was intrigued and felt I had to take the course seriously both for ...
16
votes
2answers
2k views

Turning pants inside-out (or backwards) while tied together

An entertaining topological party trick that I have seen performed is to turn your pants inside-out while having your feet tied together by a piece of string. For a demonstration, check out this ...
16
votes
5answers
989 views

Is there a topological description of combinatorial Euler characteristic?

There are a collection of definitions of "combinatorial Euler characteristic", which is different from the "homotopy Euler characteristic". I will describe a few of them and give some references, and ...
16
votes
2answers
927 views

Can the unsolvability of quintics be seen in the geometry of the icosahedron?

Q1. Is it possible to somehow "see" the unsolvability of quintic polynomials in the $A_5$ symmetries of the icosahedron (or dodecahedron)? Perhaps this is too vague a question. Q2. Are there ...
16
votes
1answer
560 views

Is the ball reducible in some high dimension?

Let $K$ be a bounded symmetric ($-K=K$) open convex body in $\mathbb R^n$. The critical determinant $d(K)$ of $K$ is the least possible volume $|\operatorname{det}(a_1\dots a_n)|$ of the fundamental ...
16
votes
3answers
1k views

Prescribing areas of parallelograms (or 2x2 principal minors)

Let $(a_{ij})$ be a $n\times n$ symmetric matrix such that $a_{ij}\geq 0$ for all $i,j$ and $a_{ii}=0$ for all $i$. Under which conditions on the $a_{ij}$'s can one find $n$ vectors ...
16
votes
2answers
2k views

A question about the proof of Mostow rigidity

I have recently been studying a proof of Mostow rigidity (along the lines of Mostow's original argument), and I'm left a little confused about something. We start with an isomorphism $\alpha: \Gamma ...
16
votes
1answer
1k views

What can be said about the Shadow hull and the Sight hull?

This is a question implicitly raised by Is the sphere the only surface all of whose projections are circles? Or: Can we deduce a spherical Earth by observing that its shadows on the Moon are always ...
16
votes
0answers
472 views

Random Distance Matrices

My question is motivated by the following recent paper: http://arxiv.org/abs/1110.6333 Assume you have a metric space $(X,d)$ equipped with a Borel probability measure $\mu$. We can further assume ...
15
votes
4answers
2k views

Largest hyperbolic disk embeddable in Euclidean 3-space?

Hilbert proved that there's no complete regular (C^k for sufficiently large k) isometric embedding of the hyperbolic plane into R^3. On the other hand, the pseudosphere is locally isometric to the ...
15
votes
4answers
610 views

Sweep-segment bot: Will this random walk sweep the plane?

This model is inspired by the random behavior of the Roomba sweeping robot. Let a unit segment $ab$ in the plane be placed initially with $a=(0,0)$ and $b=(1,0)$. The segment is first rotated a ...
15
votes
2answers
331 views

Integer lattice points on a hypersphere

Is the following statement true? For every integer $n\ge2$ and every integer $k\ge0$ there exists a hypersphere in $\mathbb{R}^n$ (circle, sphere etc) containing exactly $k$ integer lattice ...
15
votes
5answers
906 views

Is a rhombus rigid on a sphere or torus? And generalizations.

If a rectangle is formed from rigid bars for edges and joints at vertices, then it is flexible in the plane: it can flex to a parallelogram. On any smooth surface with a metric, one can define a ...
15
votes
1answer
659 views

Blocking visibility with cylinders

Suppose you have a supply of infinite-length, opaque, unit-radius cylinders, and you would like to block all visibility from a point $p \in \mathbb{R}^3$ to infinity with as few cylinders as possible. ...
15
votes
2answers
678 views

Arrangements of points in the plane

Let $p_1,\ldots,p_n$ be a collection of distinct points in $\mathbb{R}^2$, no three of which lie on a line. For each $p_i$, let $\omega_i(p_1,\ldots,p_n)$ be the following ordered list (well-defined ...
15
votes
0answers
660 views

Milnor's cartography problem

Let $\Omega$ be a round disc of radius $\alpha<\pi/2$ on the standard sphere. It is easy to construct a $(1,\tfrac{\alpha}{\sin\alpha})$-bi-Lipschitz map from $\Omega$ to the plane. Is it true ...
14
votes
3answers
851 views

Use of n-transitivity in finite group theory

Hello, apparently finite groups which are n-transitive with n>5 are only the permutation groups Sn or the alternating groups An+2, see e.g. page 226 this book by Isaacs ...
14
votes
5answers
655 views

Historical use of figures in geometry

I was surprised to learn from John Stillwell's comment in answer to the question, "Can the unsolvability of quintics be seen in the geometry of the icosahedron?", that There is not a single ...