In That’s Maths this week (TM004), we look at the problem of packing goods of fixed size and shape in the most efficient way. Packing problems, concerned with storing objects as densely as possible in a container, have a long history, and have broad applications in engineering and industry.
Johannes Kepler conjectured that the standard method used by grocers to pile oranges and gunners to stack cannon balls is the most efficient, but this conjecture was proved only recently by Thomas Hales. The mathematics involved in packing problems includes computational techniques, differential geometry and optimization algorithms.
The Foams and Complex Systems Group in Trinity College Dublin have recently discovered some new dense packings of spheres in cylindrical columns. An International Workshop on Packing Problems took place in TCD on 2-5 Sept. 2012. For more information, look here.