Some wrinkles in Gauss’ Theorem: Mathematics of everyday objects from Pizza to Umbrellas and Parachutes - G. I. Taylor Lecture

Professor Dominic Vella

  • 30 January 2023, 18:00 – 19:00
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre
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  • Event cost: Free
  • Disabled access?: Yes
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Thin objects are easy to deform, as we see in everyday life: a piece of paper crumples, while an umbrella may invert in the wind.  It is also clear that such thin structures  choose to bend, rather than compress/stretch, whenever possible. Gauss’ "Remarkable Theorem” severely restricts what types of pure bending deformations can happen with consequences from how best to eat pizza to the domed roofs of buildings. Nevertheless, as I will show, Gauss’ Theorem can be subtly subverted by objects that have a small, but non-zero, thickness.


Professor Dominic Vella is Professor of Applied Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute in the University of Oxford, as well as a tutorial fellow at Lincoln College.

Event Video

G.I. Taylor Lecture

Geoffrey Ingram Taylor (1886-1975) was a polymath, one of the most notable scientists of this century, occupying a leading place in applied, science, classical physics and engineering science. His most notable contributions have been in the fields of mechanics of fluids and solids, with application to meteorology, oceanography, aeronautics, metal physics, mechanical engineering and chemical engineering. He was a great experimentalist, with well-honed practical skills (whilst a schoolboy GI build a sailing boat 13.5 feet long in his bedroom (which was 14 feet long), doing it all himself apart from some help from his mother in making the sails, and sailed it alone from Hammersmith to Sheerness and back, sleeping on board with one leg either side of the centreboard case.

He was interested in science from an early age, and at the age of 11 attended the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures from Sir Oliver Lodge on ‘The principles of the electric telegraph’. These made a deep impression on him and he is quoted as saying that ‘from that time I knew I wanted to be a scientist’. Taking inspiration from the practical demonstrations in the lectures, he built his own Wimshurst machine and used it to generate low-energy X-rays  (which had just been discovered).

GI returned to Cambridge as a lecturer in mathematics; he was not much interested in teaching, but the award of a Royal Society Research Professorship in 1923 enabled him to move to a research position at the Cavendish. He remained a Fellow of Trinity all his life.  

“I think that if I were to start again I should still try to be an applied mathematician, because the number of amusing activities to which mathematics can lead on is so great” (1952).


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