Modelling Natural Shape II: (Easter) Eggs

When you start with a portrait and search for a pure form, 
a clear volume, through successive eliminations, you arrive 
inevitably at the egg. Likewise, starting with the egg and 
following the same process in reverse, one finishes with 
the portrait.


Easter is coming and what better time to talk about eggs!

During my recent mathematical explorations of natural shapes and forms, my attention has been catched by the shape of birds eggs. In the interesting book by J. Adams, A Mathematical walk in Nature [1], you can find a short review on the different mathematical modelling approach to describe the shape of an egg. Among them, the geometrical one by Baker [2] is revealed one of the most versatile as it can very accurately reproduce the shapes of a large variety of bird eggs [2]. More recently, the model was used to perform a systematic and comparative study of the shape of bird eggs. This study, published on Science magazine [3], a two-dimensional morphological space defined by the parameters of the Baker’s equation, has been used to show the diversity of the shape of 1400 species of birds. Combining these information with a mechanical model and phylogenetics information, the authors have shown that egg shape correlates with flight ability on broad taxonomic scales. They concluded that adaptations for flight may have been critical drivers of egg-shape variation in birds [3].

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I primi 150 Anni della Tavola Periodica degli Elementi

Il 6 di Marzo del 1869 il chimico russo Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev presento’ alla Societa’ di Chimica Russa, una comunicazione dal titolo La dipendenza delle proprieta’ degli elementi chimica dal peso atomico. In questa storica comunicazione, Mendeleev pesento’ una tabella in cui organizzava gli elementi chimici allora noti. Questa tabella segno’ anche la fama del suo autore poiche’ fu la prima versione della moderna tavola periodica degli elementi chimici.

La tavola periodic degli elementi di Mendeleev. I trattini rappresentano elelmenti sconosciuti nel 1871. (fonte della figura: wikipedia)

Mendeleyev, preparando una seconda edizione del suo libro di chimica, stava cercando un modo per classificare gli elementi chimici allora conosciuti (53 ovvero meno della meta’ di quelli che conosciamo oggi) per fare chiarezza sulle loro proprieta’. In una nota, Mendeleyev racconta che l’ispirazione gli sia venuta in sogno (non e’ la prima volta che Orfeo suggerisce a chimici le loro grandi scoperte scientifici!) [2]:

I saw in a dream a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.

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Lissajous-Bowditch curves

Try to glue a small mirror to an end of a bent piece of wire fixed to a stable platform and let the laser beam of a laser pointer reflect on it. Entangled spires of an ephemeral dragon of light will perform a hypnotic dance on the wall of your room. This voluptuous dance is the results of two mutually perpendicular harmonic oscillations produced by the oscillations of the elastic wire. 

The curved patterns are called Lissajous-Bowditch figures and named after the French physicist Jules Antoine Lissajous who did a detailed study of them (published in his Mémoire sur l’étude optique des mouvements vibratoires, 1857). The American mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch (1773 – 1838) conducted earlier and independent studies on the same curves and for this reason, the figures are also called  Lissajous-Bowditch curves. Lissajous invented different mechanical devices consisting of two mirrors attached to two oriented diapasons (or other oscillators) by double reflecting a collimated ray of light on a screen, produce these figures upon oscillations of the diapasons.  The diapason can be substituted with elastic wires, speakers, pendulum or electronic circuits. I the last case, the light is the electron beam of a cathodic tube (or its digital equivalent)  of an oscilloscope. This blog is about these curves and shows demonstrations and applications.

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The Magic Imaginary Numbers

Complex numbers may appear a difficult subject given the name. However, there is nothing of really complicated about complex numbers. However, they definitively add a pinch of \em magic \em in the mathematics manipulations that you can do with them!

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Berechnung der Konstante von Madelung

Die gesamte Coulomb-Potentialenergie eines Kristalls ist die Summe der einzelnen Terme der elektrostatischen Potentialenergie

\displaystyle V_{AB} = \frac{e^2}{4\pi\epsilon_0} \frac{Z_AZ_B}{r_{AB}} \hfill (1)

zum Laden von Ionen  {q_A} e {q_B} und  getrennt nach Entfernung {r_{AB}}.

Die Summe erstreckt sich auf alle im Festkörper vorhandenen Ionenpaare für alle kristallinen Strukturen.

Die Summe konvergiert sehr langsam, weil die ersten Nachbarn des Zentralatoms einen substanziellen Beitrag zur Summe mit einem negativen Term liefern, während die benachbarten Sekunden nur mit einem etwas weicheren positiven Term beitragen, und so weiter. Auf diese Weise wird der Gesamteffekt sicherstellen, dass eine totale Initation der Anziehung zwischen Kationen und Anionen vorherrscht mit einem (negativen) Beitrag, der für die Gesamtenergie günstig ist.

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Frosinone and the Ciociaria

I am European of Italian origin. I very proud of my origin but, unfortunately, my carrier put me in a orbit that does intersect my country only during the vacation time. In these close encounters, my landing site is Frosinone. When not Italian acquaintance want to know about my Heimat, most of them are puzzled about the name of my hometown Frosinone and its location. Usually, I help them to overcome the comprehensible impasse by giving as reference Rome and telling them that my birthplace is somewhere 80 km in the South of the Caput Mundi.  Last year (2018) my hometown soccer team (Frosinone Calcio, nickenamed Canarini, The Canaries, for their home colours)) moved in the first league (A) of the national soccer championship. So, let see if this success will help to raise its notoriety! In this blog, I won’t write about the success of the Canaries Canarini (although I am proud of that even if I am not such a soccer game fan) but about my hometown and the bucolic place in the central Italy where it is located.

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Calculus in a Nutshell: functions and derivatives

When I was about thirteen, the library was going to get ‘Calculus for the Practical Man.’ By this time I knew, from reading the encyclopedia, that calculus was an important and interesting subject, and I ought to learn it.  

Richard P. Feynman, from What Do You Care What Other People Think?


Calculus is an important branch of mathematics that deals with the methods for calculating derivatives and integrals of functions and using this information to study the properties of functions. It was independently invented by I. Newton and W. Leibniz in the 18{^{th}} century and it was further developed by other great mathematicians in the centuries that follows (see Figure below).

Figure 1: Some of the great mathematician that invented the Calculus.

It comprises two areas:

  • Differential calculus {\rightarrow} It concerns the study of the rate of variation of functions.
  • Integral calculus {\rightarrow} It concern the study of the area under functions.

Depending on the nature of the functions involved in the calculations, we can further distinguish between the single- and multi-variable calculus. In this chapter, the main concepts and methods of the single-variable calculus are summarised.

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