Posted by: justpeachie | November 11, 2008

diamonds are a protozoan’s best friends

Last time I blogged about the strength of the triangle. This time, I thought it befitting to flex the muscles of its three-dimensional counterpart, the tetrahedron. It’s the simplest 3D shape, but it is also very strong, since all four sides are (yes) equilateral triangles. Like the triangle does in a 2D plane, so does the tetrahedron keep its shape in 3D space.

Due to its strong, rigid structure, the tetrahedron shape is often seen in nature. Diamonds, for example, are composed of atoms which are arranged as connected tetrahedra. This explains why the diamond is one of the most effective materials known to man. Effective because you can give it to a woman, of course.

Aside from the diamond, the tetrahedron is seen in many other crystalline structures, and it is integral to the shape of many covalent bonds in molecules—CH4, for example (a carbon atom in the center, hydrogen forming each of the four vertices). The ammonium ion (NH4+) likewise shares this structure, as do a slew of other compounds in organic and inorganic chemistry–and transition metals, to boot.

Back to real life: You might have seen on breezy summer days someone flying a tetrahedral kite, invented by Alexander Graham Bell. It’s strong; it flies well in heavier winds. The tetrahedron is also found in the skeletons of some species of protozoa, those lucky microbes. Finally, if you get a chance, check out the art of Arthur Silverman, who loves tetrahedra in his structures.

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Responses

  1. The only trick is that though you can tile the plane with regular triangles you can not tile space with regular tetrahedrons.


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