"Beautiful" oddity unveiled at math library


On Oct. 25, Cornell’s Department of Mathematics unveiled a strange, shiny object that’s made from one material, has uniform density, and always rests on the same side no matter how it’s rolled or set down.

“In mathematical terms, it’s convex, homogenous, and has exactly one stable point and one unstable point of equilibrium,” explained Ravi Ramakrishna ’88, professor and math department chair. “It’s beautiful to look at, but it’s also beautiful in that it has these interesting properties.”

Known as a gömböc, the object is a gift from its co-inventor, Gábor Domokos, who attended the unveiling and dedication ceremony at the mathematics library. “The gömböc is at the interface between convex geometry, geometric partial differential equations, and geomorphology,” Domokos said. “As a physical object, it may appeal to many who otherwise may not appreciate math, and I hope it will inspire interdisciplinary research.”

Director of the Morphodynamics Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Domokos was a Fulbright scholar and later a Mary S. Upson teaching fellow at Cornell early in his career.

He said institutions around the world have gömböc pieces in their collections, and he wanted to honor Cornell with its own. The gift is named after the year of the university’s founding: “By donating Gömböc 1865 to the math department, I express my appreciation and gratitude for all the great intellectual adventures I experienced at Cornell.”

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.