Math Monday: Tetrahedron Ripples

Math Monday: Tetrahedron Ripples

By Glen Whitney for the Museum of Mathematics


Before we leave the topic of Sierpinski Tetrahedra, with which many Math Mondays have been concerned, I wanted to highlight the story of one particularly impressive Sierpinski Tetrahedron which has indirectly inspired a host of young makers.

Namely, it’s this record-setting order-seven “Rainbow Tetrahedron,” built in Cleveland in 2002:

A group of kids at the Alexander Hamilton Middle School built this out of 16,384 small paper tetrahedra, and in the course of the project, it happened that children’s author Shelley Pearsall came there on a school visit and saw this in progress. Over time, this project ended up inspiring one of Pearsall’s books, All of the Above. That book, in turn, has inspired a generation of other tetrahedron manufacturers. Here are just a couple of examples.

The Copley Middle School:

Chagrin Falls Middle School:

And one more, a fly-able tetrahedral kite built independently by students in Bakersfield, CA, interestingly enough at about the same time as the Rainbow Tetrahedron in Cleveland:

(Note that this one, although a recursive tetrahedral structure, is not quite a Sierpinski tetrahedron like the others.)

Maybe you can help a local school group in your area to build a giant tetrahedron and be inspired by the beauty of geometry and the joy of making things. Let us know what transpires!

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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