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Mathematicians develop new method for describing extremely complicated shapes

Date:
July 30, 2012
Source:
American Institute of Physics (AIP)
Summary:
Building a bridge between topology and fractals may lead to a new way of describing tiny defects in metal or the froth of a breaking wave.
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Mathematicians at the Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey "bridged" topology and fractals and made a discovery that could lead to a new way of describing extremely complicated shapes such as the configuration of the tiniest defects in a metal or even the froth of a breaking wave.

Topology is a powerful branch of mathematics that looks at qualitative geometric properties such as the number of holes a geometric shape contains, while fractals are extremely complicated geometric shapes that appear similarly complicated even when viewed under a microscope of high magnification.

Bridging the topology and fractals, as described in the American Institute of Physics' Journal of Mathematical Physics (JMP), relies upon a recently developed mathematical theory, known as "persistent homology," which takes into account the sizes and number of holes in a geometric shape. The work described in JMP is a proof of concept based on fractals that have already been studied by other methods -- such as the shapes assumed by large polymer molecules as they twist or bend under random thermal fluctuation.

Many geometric structures with fractal-like complexity arise in nature, such as the configuration of defects in a metal or the froth of a breaking wave. Their geometry has important physical effects too, but until now we haven't had a vocabulary rich enough to adequately describe these and other complicated shapes. The mathematicians plan to use the vocabulary provided by persistent homology methods to investigate and describe complicated shapes in a whole new way.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Institute of Physics (AIP). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Robert MacPherson, Benjamin Schweinhart. Measuring shape with topology. Journal of Mathematical Physics, 2012; 53 (7): 073516 DOI: 10.1063/1.4737391

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American Institute of Physics (AIP). "Mathematicians develop new method for describing extremely complicated shapes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120730094136.htm>.
American Institute of Physics (AIP). (2012, July 30). Mathematicians develop new method for describing extremely complicated shapes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120730094136.htm
American Institute of Physics (AIP). "Mathematicians develop new method for describing extremely complicated shapes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120730094136.htm (accessed May 23, 2015).

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