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Islamic ceramics wow mathematicians

Medieval 'quasicrystalline geometry'

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A US scientist has discovered that medieval Islamic ceramic designs demonstrate their makers' understanding of "quasicrystalline geometry" - something modern mathematicians only "figured out" in the last 20 or 30 years.

That's according to Harvard's Peter Lu, who normally designs physics experiments for the International Space Station, but spotted an interesting decagonal motif tile design on a 16th Century building in Uzbekistan.

The pattern (see pic in BBC article here) shows "rotational symmetry yet lacks translational symmetry", as Science puts it, and "echoes quasicrystalline geometry in that both use symmetrical polygonal shapes to create patterns that can be extended indefinitely".

Lu said: "It's absolutely stunning. They made tilings that reflect mathematics that were so sophisticated that we didn't figure it out until the last 20 or 30 years."

Lu's study, published in Science, challenges the belief that "the complicated star-and-polygon patterns of Islamic design were conceived as zigzagging lines drafted using straightedge rulers and compasses".

Lu added: "You can go through and see the evolution of increasing geometric sophistication. So they start out with simple patterns, and they get more complex." ®

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