Mathematicians to map all the shapes in the universe

A three year project initiated by mathematicians at Imperial College London, in collaboration with institutions in Japan, Australia and Russia will create a directory of all the possible shapes in the universe. They think the directory they will produce will be as important as the periodic table is to chemistry.

The project will create a resource that physicists, mathematicians and other scientists will be able to use in various ways including theoretical physics, number theory and computer vision.

The researchers want to identify all shapes across three, four and five dimensions that can’t be divided into other shapes, and will work on equations that describe each shape.

Professor Alessio Corti, the project leader at the Department of Mathematics at Imperial, said: “The periodic table is one of the most important tools in chemistry. It lists the atoms from which everything else is made.  Our work aims to do the same thing for three, four and five dimensional shapes.”

The researchers will create a directory that lists all the  geometric building blocks there are. “We think we may find vast numbers of these shapes, so you probably won’t be able to stick our table on your wall,” said Corti.

So what about the 4D and 5D stuff? The researchers will work on shapes that involve other dimensions such as space-time.  “String theorists believe that the universe is made up of many additional dimensions that cannot be seen.”

Dr Tom Coates, also from Imperial, said: “Most people are familiar with the idea of three dimensional shapes… it might be hard to get your head around the idea of shapes in four and five dimensions. If you are working in robotics, you might need to work out the equation for a five dimensional shape in order to figure out how to instruct a robot to look at an object. If you are a physicist you might need to analyse the shapes of hidden dimensions in the universe in order to understand how sub-atomic particles work.”

The researchers have a blog which you can find here.