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Plato's Molecule

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Author:Ivars Peterson (MathTrek)
Description: In his dialogue Timaeus, the Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 B.C.) carefully laid out his reasoning for ascribing certain geometric shapes to the minuscule particles that constituted the four elements of matter. In his view, these elements - fire, air, water, and earth - were all aggregates of tiny solids, each one having the shape of one of the regular polyhedra. As the lightest and sharpest of the elements, fire was a tetrahedron. As the most stable, earth consisted of cubes. Water was an icosahedron, and air had to be an octahedron. The universe itself was a perfect sphere. The fifth regular solid - the dodecahedron - was barely mentioned... Now, the dodecahedron is in the news again. A team of chemists from Germany and the United States has fashioned one out of carbon atoms to form the molecule C_20.

Levels: High School (9-12), College
Languages: English
Resource Types: Articles
Math Topics: Polyhedra, History and Biography, Art

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