The mathematician as all-rounder

Arguably mathematicians are the scientific all-rounders, applying their skills to a range of subjects from chemistry and medicine to engineering and economics. In some cases these skills extend even further. Professor Alain Goriely, Statutory Professor of Mathematical Modelling in Oxford, has just won second prize in the Weird and Wonderful section of the 2014 National Science Photography Competition, organised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for his photograph of a gömböc. A  gömböc is a convex three-dimensional homogeneous body which, when resting on a flat surface, has just one stable and one unstable point of equilibrium. Its existence was conjectured by Russian mathematician Vladimir Arnold in 1995 and proven in 2006 by Hungarian scientists Gábor Domokos and Péter Várkonyi.

A limited edition Gömböc, labelled #2013, the year of the opening of the Andrew Wiles Building in Oxford, was purchased with generous support from Otto Albrecht and Tim and Leona Wong and can be found on display in the building. The Gömböc in Alain's photograph, a gift from Otto Albrecht, is made of plexiglass which generates intricate and intriguing light patterns. The mathematics of the Gömböc can be seen in the background.