The pursuit of beauty in mathematics

My scientific life took me to Oxford this week, to attend Radiation Protection Week at the university’s Mathematical Institute in the modern Andrew Wiles building. In between learning about radiation I was able to drink coffee and look at displays of mathematical patterns, and crafts based on geometrical shapes. And outside the building there’s the striking Penrose paving, constructed from just two different diamond-shaped tiles, each adorned with identical circular arcs. There are various ways of arranging the tiles and matching the arcs, with each pattern being non-repeating.

All of this got me thinking about patterns and beauty, so when I left I headed off in search of patterns in Oxford. At the Natural History Museum, I found shells and also had a bit of a look at the amazing Microsculpture exhibition. In the Museum of the History of Science I saw intricate scientific and mathematical instruments. And in between I found floor tiles, brick work, roof tiles, and windows with beautiful repeating patterns, ranging from very basic to highly decorative.



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