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.
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More information: "Measuring shape with topology," is published in Journal of Mathematical Physics. jmp.aip.org/resource/1/jmapaq/v53/i7/p073516_s1