Mathematics: First-ever image of a flat torus in 3D

April 26, 2012
Image showing the isometric embedding of a square flat torus in 3D space, seen from the outside (above) and from the inside (below). Different oscillation waves, called corrugations, can be distinguished. Together, the corrugations form an object that resembles a fractal and has a rough appearance. © Borrelli, Jabrane, Lazarus, Thibert

Just as a terrestrial globe cannot be flattened without distorting the distances, it seemed impossible to visualize abstract mathematical objects called flat tori in ordinary three-dimensional space. However, a French team of mathematicians and computer scientists has succeeded in constructing and visually representing an image of a flat torus in three-dimensional space. This is a smooth fractal, halfway between fractals and ordinary surfaces. The results are published in PNAS.

In the 1950s, Nicolaas Kuiper and the John Nash demonstrated the existence of a representation of an abstract mathematical object called flat torus, without being able to visualize it. Since then, constructing a representation of this surface has remained a challenge that has finally been met by scientists in Lyon and Grenoble.

On the basis of the Convex Integration Theory developed by Mikhail Gromov in the 1970s, the researchers used the corrugation technique (oscillations). This reputedly abstract helps to determine atypical solutions to partial differential equations. This enabled the scientists to obtain images of a flat torus in 3D for the first time. Halfway between fractals and ordinary surfaces, these images show a smooth .

These findings open up new avenues in applied mathematics, especially in the visualization of the differential equations encountered in physics and biology. The astounding properties of smooth fractals could also play a central role in the analysis of the geometry of shapes.

Explore further: Beautiful math of fractals

More information: Flat tori in three dimensional space and convex integration - Vincent Borrelli, Saïd Jabrane, Francis Lazarus and Boris Thibert, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), April 2012.

To find out more about this research:

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1 / 5 (1) May 07, 2012
Oh, boy! This article was a real eye-opener!

Usually I'm able to tell just off-hand whether a story is Real Science or something else. But this time, I really couldn't. Well, that happens to all of us, I guess, but here's the real news:

This experience, I think, gives me some insight into why it is so hard for scientists to convince the layman of anything that's beyond the layman's grasp. When his arguments are merely words and sentences, without understandable content, it all collapses into simply believing the message, or not.

I couldn't tell the difference if this is an April Fool's joke, BS by the Math department to get more funding, or somebody just inventing "news" to get paid by the word count.

Supposing Flat Tori were a crucial Economic or Political or Defence related thing? Then my vote would be as good as tossing a coin.

Being really uneducated would be scary! Then I'd feel like this about most everything. I'd rather be educated than rich!

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