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New geometric shape "Gomboc" featured at Shanghai Expo

08-19-2010 16:10 BJT Special Report:Shanghai World Expo 2010 |

BUDAPEST, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- Erno Rubik's magic cube may be Hungary's most well-known contribution to the world's stock of inventions, but at the 2010 Shanghai Expo, the Hungarians are promoting another eye-catching mathematical product -- "Gomboc."

Gomboc, a curious new solid shape which can gradually rock itself back to equilibrium when disturbed, was invented in 2006 by two Hungarian engineers.

In May, it made its public debut when it became the centerpiece of the Hungarian pavilion at the World Expo in China.

With a roughly two-meter tall lumpy stainless steel shape, Gomboc serenely rests in the center of the 1,000-square-meter space, challenging visitors to work out what exactly it is. A work of art, science or perhaps mathematics? No one seems entirely sure.

Despite the deliberate lack of explanation accompanying the display, the odd-shaped object has been one of the hits of the Expo, as the Hungarian pavilion is among the ten biggest attractions of the event.

In a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua, Hungarian scientists Gabor Domokos and Peter Varkonyi, who proved the existence of Gomboc in 2006, described the new object as a "meeting place for mathematics, harmony, balance and beauty."

Inventing a new shape takes time. The search for what would become this strange new form goes back 20 years when Domokos, Professor of Mechanics, Materials and Structures at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, began toying with the idea of a shape or solid which balances in a stable manner at only one point.

Along with American colleagues Andy Ruina and Jim Papadopoulos, he proved that such a shape does not exist and took the conclusion to a mathematics conference in Hamburg in 1995, where the famed Russian scientist and mathematician Vladimir Arnold was speaking.

Arnold died in June 2010 at the age of 72, but as Domokos recounted, Arnold played a leading role in the story of Gomboc.

During the conference, Arnold listened to Domokos's results, and told him he was looking for the new shape in the wrong place.

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