STEM GLAM GALLERY: ROGER PENROSE
Some of you might have seen this amazing artistic structure in houses, offices, and malls (figure on the right). It was named “Penrose tiling” after the mathematician Roger Penrose discovered it in 1974.
Penrose was born to a well-known psychiatrist and mathematician Lionel Penrose and Margaret Leathes. His native town is Colchester, England. Most of his household members are of intellects as his grandfather was a physiologist, one of his brother a physicist, another a 10-time winner of the British chess championship. Penrose earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from University College of London.
Penrose made many astonishing contributions to the fields of physics and mathematics. One of them was his partnered study with Stephen Hawking on the nature of black holes. The duo won the Wolf Prize in 1988 for this work. They proposed that black holes are formed from the death of big stars and when that happens, the star shrinks inward and the outer layer tears apart. As a result, the hole becomes extremely dense and even inescapable to light, let alone a normal object. His kick-start study of space led to further broad investigations in astrophysics and quantum mechanics.
Moreover, Penrose’s scientific work is not limited to physics. He also made remarkable findings in mathematical geometry, specifically the study of tilings. Tiling is a technique of arranging the polygons in a single plane without overlaps and gaps between one another. Regular and repeated orienting many squares or equilateral triangles is easy. However, what intrigued mathematicians was whether it is possible to create a tiling with irregular and non-repeated pattern. While mathematicians managed to find out a way to do this using six different geometric shapes (we call them “tiles”), Penrose surprised them and came up with a tiling with only two tiles (Figure on the left).
What made Penrose a unique scientist is his unlimited and deep study of his fields of interests. He would recall older scientific findings to propound broader and newer ideas to people’s attention. He is currently a Math Professor at the University of Oxford and Wadham College of Oxford.