Café Mathematics in Lvov

For 150 years the city of Lvov was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After Polish independence following World War I, research blossomed and between 1920 and 1940 a sparkling constellation of mathematicians flourished in Lvov [see this week’s That’s Maths column in The Irish Times (TM063, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com).

The Scottish Café, Lvov in earlier times (left), now Hotel Atlas in Lviv.(image Wikimedia Commons).

The Scottish Café, Lvov in earlier times (left), now Hotel Atlas in Lviv (right).

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The Birth of Functional Analysis

Stefan Banach (1892–1945) was amongst the most influential mathematicians of the twentieth century and the greatest that Poland has produced. Born in Krakow, he studied in Lvov, graduating in 1914 just before the outbreak of World War I. He returned to Krakow where, by chance, he met another mathematician, Hugo Steinhaus who was already well-known. Together they founded what would, in 1920, become the Polish Mathematical Society.

A coin and a postage stamp commemorating Stefan Banach.

A coin and a postage stamp commemorating Stefan Banach.

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MGP: Tracing our Mathematical Ancestry

There is great public interest in genealogy. Many of us live in hope of identifying some illustrious forebear, or enjoy the frisson of having a notorious murderer somewhere in our family tree. Academic genealogies can also be traced: see this week’s That’s Maths column in The Irish Times (TM062, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com).

MGP Continue reading ‘MGP: Tracing our Mathematical Ancestry’

The Klein 4-Group

What is the common factor linking book-flips, solitaire, twelve-tone music and the solution of quartic equations?   Answer: {K_4}.

Symmetries of a Book — or a Brick

The four symmetric configurations of a book under 3D rotations.}

The four symmetric configurations of a book under 3D rotations.}

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Perelman’s Theorem: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

This week’s That’s Maths column in The Irish Times (TM061, or search for “thatsmaths” at irishtimes.com) is about the remarkable mathematician Grisha Perelman and his proof of a one-hundred year old conjecture.

Poincare-Chair Continue reading ‘Perelman’s Theorem: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’

The Steiner Minimal Tree

Steiner’s minimal tree problem is this: Find the shortest possible network interconnecting a set of points in the Euclidean plane. If the points are linked directly to each other by straight line segments, we obtain the minimal spanning tree. But Steiner’s problem allows for additional points – now called Steiner points – to be added to the network, yielding Steiner’s minimal tree. This generally results in a reduction of the overall length of the network.

Solution of Steiner 5-point problem with soap film [from Courant and Robbins].

A solution of Steiner 5-point problem with soap film [from Courant and Robbins].

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Plateau’s Problem and Double Bubbles

Bubbles floating in the air strive to achieve a spherical form. Large bubbles may oscillate widely about this ideal whereas small bubbles quickly achieve their equilibrium shape. The sphere is optimal: it encloses maximum volume for any surface of a given area. This was stated by Archimedes, but he did not have the mathematical techniques required to prove it. It was only in the late 1800s that a formal proof of optimality was completed by Hermann Schwarz [Schwarz, 1884].

Computer-generated double bubble

Computer-generated double bubble

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