Historic ‘Tile’ Discovery Gives Math World A Big Jolt

A team of mathematicians has wowed the math world with their discovery of a new kind of pentagon capable of “tiling a plane”–that is, fitting together on a flat surface without overlapping or leaving any gaps.

It’s said to be only the fifteenth such pentagon ever found and the first new one to be found in 30 years. Finding one is a bit like discovering a new atomic particle, Dr. Casey Mann, associate professor of mathematics at the University of Washington in Bothell and a member of the team, said in a written statement.

The team made the find with the help of a computer program designed just for the purpose.

“We discovered the tile using a computer to exhaustively search through a large but finite set of possibilities,” Mann told The Guardian, adding that the team had been “a bit surprised” to find the new type of pentagon. In addition to Mann, the team includes Dr. Jennifer McLoud-Mann, who is also an associate professor of math at the university, and David Von Derau, a recent graduate of the university.

Along with suggesting a new way to tile a bathroom floor, Mann said the discovery could lead to advances in chemistry and structural design–specifically in the study of crystals and in the emerging field of self-assembly, in which scientists aim to create structures that come together all on their own as a result of their shapes and other properties.

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Of course, tiling patterns (also known as tessellations) hold significant aesthetic appeal–at least for mathematicians.

“Mainly we study them for pure pleasure,” Dr. Steven Strogatz, a Cornell University mathematician who was not involved in the discovery, told The Huffington Post in an email. He called the new discovery “cool” and pointed out that tessellations —> Read More