AUG 09, 2018 11:55 AM PDT

How a Ham Sandwich Helps You Understand Mathematics (and the Universe)

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan

Mathematics is an abstract method to describe topics such as quantity, structure, and even space, which sometimes presents quite an obstacle for everyday folks to understand. To make things easier to grasp, mathematicians like to describe their ideas using terms that are relatable to daily life. 

The Ham Sandwich Theorem (also known as the Pancake Theorem) is a perfect example. It states that for a sandwich, consisting of a slice of ham and two slices of bread, there's always an angle that allows one to cut all three pieces in half in a single shot, wherever any piece of the sandwich may be.

To put it in a more mathematically precise way, in a Euclidean N dimensional space (ours is 3), any N compact objects (3 in our situation) can be equally bisected (cut in half) by a (N-1)-dimensional hyperplane (2-dimensional plane in our scenario). Now you see why mathematicians have to call this Ham Sandwich theorem (for the sake that more people can understand). 

What's more fascinating, two mathematicians at the Georgia Institute of Technology dug deep into this theorem and found something that is both astronomical and mind-bending. According to their paper in 2011, the calculation led them to conclude that "at any given instant of time, there is one planet, one moon and one asteroid in our solar system and a single plane touching all three that exactly bisects the total planetary mass, the total lunar mass, and the total asteroidal mass of the solar system."

Source: Seeker via Youtube

About the Author
  • Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
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