Geometry Takes Flight

Glen Whitney

Executive Director, Museum of Mathematics

39 Articles

By Glen Whitney

Executive Director, Museum of Mathematics

39 Articles

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Math Monday is back from spring break with some mathematical ideas that are perfect for March’s winds: you can make a kite with any number of pure geometric forms.  First off, the very word “kite” has its own specific mathematical meaning: any quadrilateral with two pairs of equal adjacent edges.  So while not every mathematical kite will create a physical kite that will actually fly (I dare you to try to fly a kite shaped like this one), any time you make a classic diamond kite you are exploring the properties of the mathematical kite shape.  (Ironically, the word “diamond” is generally taken to mean “rhombus” mathematically, so while all diamonds are (math) kites, almost no (flying) kites are in fact diamonds..)  Bonus points for making a Penrose kite-shaped kite.

[Diamond Kite Figure]

Turning to more complicated kite designs, here are a few more you might want to try. Jeff Duntemann gives very complete directions for building a lovely tetrahedral kite.

The D-Stix tetrahedral kite in flight

Now this is a project that can be taken to extremes, as Diane Hislop and her classes of fourth-grade students have found out over the years


Finally, other polyhedral shapes are possible as well, as this photo of a design by Diana Ross and Roberto Trinchero shows


Anyone up for building an icosahedral kite?  Share photos of your FMOs (Flying Mathematical Objects) in the comments below — and may the wind be always in your sails.

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