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We hold a hands-on activity "Designs & Math - Tessellations" for ages 11-18 at Un-Camp, the Science Summer Camp of Virginia Tech. The activity conveys the visual aspects of quantitative problem solving through principles of geometry, a recurring theme in our research.

Parquet floor, beehive, Escher painting, Girih patterns

Summary: Decorating a flat surface with a repeating polygon, such as a square, triangular or hexagonal tile, while avoiding imperfections is known as tessellation. Imagine a vibrant, alternating color pattern of a parquet floor in a lobby, the mesmerizing graphic artworks of the famous Dutch artist M. C. Escher, or a honeycomb of a bee hive. Tessellated surfaces can be aesthetically appealing, address structural constraints, or both!


In this activity, students learn:

  • How ancient Greek mathematicians and medieval Islamic architects invented ways of complex tessellations, be it for achieving mathematical elegance or divine artistic beauty.

  • How viruses, our minuscule yet infectious archenemies from the microbial world, build their capsids based on exactly the same geometric principles in order to enclose their genetic material.

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