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The Big Polyhedra Build

Students celebrate mathematics at Big Polyhedra Build

Mathematics students from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have taken on the challenge of building over 100 polyhedra in celebration of a famous mathematician’s birthday. 

The University hosted the Big Polyhedra Build on Wednesday 11 February. Using geometric construction tools, staff and students from UCLan Maths attempted to build 119 solids which were a uniform prism, a uniform anti prism, the five Platonic solids, the fifteen Archimedean solids and the ninety seven Johnson solids (including mirror image forms). Professor Victor Zalgaller proved there exist exactly 97 Johnson solids in 1969.

 A Johnson Solid is a convex non-uniform polyhedron, each face of which is a regular polygon such as a square or equilateral triangle. Dr Norman Johnson published what he thought was a list of the solids in 1966 and three years later Professor Zalgeller was able to prove that this list was correct.

Senior Lecturer Dr Kevin Bowman, who organised the event, said: “By proving Johnson’s Conjecture, Professor Zalgaller solved one of the longest outstanding mathematical problems that there has ever been.

“There are 119 individual polyhedral [in the above list] and today we’re going to try and make them all. We’re celebrating Professor Zalgaller’s birthday, which was on Christmas Day and we’re hoping we can find him on social media so we can send him a photo of our work.”

The event, which will also run at the 2015 Lancashire Science Festival, follows last year's Maths Megamenga and highlights the breadth of extracurricular activities available to mathematics students at UCLan.

Dr Bowman added: “In addition to their formal studies, we give our students the opportunity to investigate mathematics and how it works behind the scenes to solve problems. We want to highlight the scope of mathematics for a career and this event shows how mathematics connects with other sciences.

“We’ll also be running the Big Polyhedra Build at this year's Lancashire Science Festival to demonstrate how mathematics is used in everyday life.”

Students from mathematics and science courses welcomed the opportunity to attend the event and felt the practical application of mathematics developed their understanding of classroom theory.

Oliver Spivey, a third year from the BSc (Hons) Mathematics programme, felt the build would help with his final year project. He said: “This event shows you how you can use models and gives you a general grounding for the degree. I am more of an applied mathematician and this will be great for my final year project which focuses on sound waves in the ocean.”

Twenty-one-year-old first year physics student, Man Saier Lin added: “This event will help me with my course. I’ll be studying theoretical physics and this has helped me gain a better understanding of these shapes.”