January 26, 2021


Aim for Excellence

Diana Davis’s Beautiful Pentagons – Scientific American Blog Network

Swarthmore School mathematician Diana Davis, whom I am lucky adequate to phone a close friend,...

Swarthmore School mathematician Diana Davis, whom I am lucky adequate to phone a close friend, is multitalented. Her blended like of math and running led to an earlier visual appeal in this weblog, where by she investigated the dilemma of whether or not, if you operate a marathon at, say, a seven:00 moment for each mile speed, need to you have operate any mile in accurately seven minutes? A short while ago, she has been generating jewellery, clothes, coasters, and other objects centered on her study involving billiard trajectories in pentagons. I asked her about her study and the lovely issues she has created from it. You can uncover her creations in human being at conferences together with the Joint Mathematics Conferences or explore her web page.

Diana Davis peddles her pentagonal wares at the Joint Mathematics Conferences in January. Credit: Diana Davis

Very first, introduce yourself. Where by are you from, where by did you go to school, and where by do you perform now? Aside from math, what are you passionate about?

I am originally from New Hampshire. I went to Williams School for undergrad and to Brown University for my Ph.D. I am at the moment a traveling to assistant professor at Swarthmore School. Aside from math, I am passionate about excellent educating, fairness in all issues, and extensive-distance running.

What is your study spot, and what are some of the math concerns you like to believe about?

My study is in dynamical programs, generally in billiards, which is the analyze of a ball (or stage) bouncing all-around in a form (usually a polygon, and usually a pentagon). Men and women have comprehended billiards on the sq. for around a hundred several years, and which is about it: as people, we do not understand billiards on any other form, other than it’s possible a few of exclusive triangles (equilateral, isosceles suitable, that sort of point). So I want to know what occurs with billiards on tables that are other polygonal shapes. 

Diana Davis peddles her pentagonal wares at the Joint Mathematics Conferences in January 2020. Credit rating: Diana Davis

The dilemma that drove me for several several years was: suppose you have a ball on a normal pentagon billiard table, and you choose a direction to strike your ball, and you know that the ball’s route is heading to be periodic: the ball will bounce all-around for a while, and then return to where by it began and repeat. How several moments will it bounce ahead of it repeats — how can you get this information from the direction? For the sq., if the slope of the path (assuming the edges of the table are horizontal and vertical) is rational, then you know the route will be periodic, and if the slope is p/q in lowest phrases, then the ball will bounce 2(p+q) moments ahead of it repeats. It can be a lovely result, and I needed to generalize it to the normal pentagon.

What’s so fantastic about pentagons? Did you like them ahead of they received to be these types of a significant component of your perform, or did your like for pentagons expand as you researched them more?

5 has often been my favourite range. This is not why I studied the pentagon. The main rationale to analyze it is that it is, in some perception, the “next-most basic” normal polygon soon after the sq. — soon after all, a sq. has four sides and a pentagon has 5. Arguably, however, the normal octagon is a minor easier, since it is just a sq. with the corners slice off. Certainly, John Smillie and Corinna Ulcigrai experienced accomplished some perform on the normal octagon, and my Ph.D. advisor explained to me to browse their paper about the octagon, and see if I could use the identical techniques to understand the normal pentagon. Certainly I could! So which is how I received began with the pentagon. In that scenario, I was really learning a area created from two pentagons, which you can see in my viral dance movie.

Chopping Sequences on the Double Pentagon, stated as a result of dance from Diana Davis on Vimeo.

Then I was at a convention in Oberwolfach in spring 2014, and Samuel Lelièvre came up to me. He explained to me that he preferred my movie about the double pentagon area, and that we really should perform collectively to understand billiards on the normal pentagon billiard table. We have been operating on it at any time considering that.

How did you get the strategy to get started generating pretty issues centered on your perform, and what pretty issues do you make suitable now?

In summer months 2017, I was operating in Moon Duchin’s study cluster at Tufts University. She let us choose time out to get trained on the machines in Tufts’s Makerspace. Just before that, I experienced no desire in laser cutters or any kind of Makerspace functions, but soon after I uncovered how to use them, out of the blue I needed to try all types of issues. The to start with issues I created were being coasters — plastic pentagons about 5 inches across, engraved with periodic billiard trajectories. But even though coasters are uncomplicated to make, there is really low demand from customers for coasters. I consider that several men and women have about five or ten moments as several coasters as they really use. 

Illustrations of billiard trajectories on pentagons. Credit: Diana Davis

A person working day, I experienced the strategy to make some earrings, in all probability just for my roommate — I do not have pierced ears, myself — and I created a few of tester pairs. As shortly as I experienced that strategy, and the test pairs turned out properly, I understood I was really on to something. You see, pretty much everyone wears earrings. I failed to realize that when I began this project — again, I do not have pierced ears — but I have uncovered that about 90% of (ladies) mathematicians have pierced ears. And, as opposed to with coasters, men and women are often joyful to have a different pair of earrings.

The fantastic point about earrings is that they are a excellent conversation starter. I have a tough time conversing to new men and women. So my new tactic is that if there is someone I want to converse to, I stroll up to them, open my box of earrings, and offer you them a pair. The earrings are lovely, so the human being is frequently joyful about this offer you, and issues perform out fantastic. What’s more, men and women usually talk to comply with-up concerns, like “what are the styles?” and “this is your study?! What is your study about?” which, to put it frivolously, is not the reaction you usually get when you convey to the human being next to you on the airplane that you are a mathematician. My access intention is to put stealth mathematics into popular culture. I would like for a usual retailer to have my earrings, the way that they have Alex and Ani bracelets and that sort of point, and men and women would obtain them since they are lovely, and no one would even know that they are mathematical. Perhaps that could be a rumor that came out afterwards, in the tabloids. On the other hand, I named my earring organization “Math is lovely,” which is stealth advertising and marketing for math, since when men and women converse about my fledgling organization, I have tricked them into expressing “math is lovely” out loud.

These days I am generating a few of issues. For the earrings, the prettiest point I am doing is employing translucent coloured plastic, and reducing out the destructive space, where by the trajectory isn’t. I also choose sheets of good wooden and engrave a trajectory on one side, and then some information about the trajectory, these types of as ‘101 small trajectory’ on the other side. I give these away ahead of my talks, and then men and women talk to, “what is a hundred and one? what does ‘short trajectory’ necessarily mean?” and I say, “occur to the converse!” Then men and women have a rationale to spend focus to the a variety of parts of the converse, so that they can understand the information on the again, and they also get something to choose dwelling with them. [Viewers can test out Davis’s and Lelièvre’s paper about these trajectories below.]

Davis’s picket pentagon pendants engraved with billiard trajectories. Credit: Diana Davis

Unrelated to my study, I have been reducing out tiling lizards, centered on Escher’s woodcut from 1943. I hold them on my table, and it is exceptionally gratifying to put them collectively like a puzzle, as they snap into put with a gratifying click on. My pupils like them, and it aids them to have something to do with their palms when they converse with me. 

How did you understand what you wanted to understand to really get started generating issues, and how did you get obtain to the suitable machines?

I uncovered the basic principles of laser reducing at Tufts’s Makerspace. Then I began operating at Swarthmore a couple months afterwards, and I was delighted to uncover that there was also a laser cutter below. I did all of my experimenting with supplies and techniques below at Swarthmore, and as with most issues, I uncovered by trying issues, obtaining failures, and trying something else. 

If you want to laser slice issues, it is significant to have obtain to someone else’s laser cutter, relatively than proudly owning your very own. A laser cutter is the dimensions of a chest freezer, expenditures about $40,000, needs to have direct venting to outdoors (so it are unable to be in a basement or an interior area), and can easily get started fires or explode if remaining unattended. They also want recurrent maintenance. For these explanations, it is fantastic to be ready to use someone else’s machine.