Saturday, December 06, 2008

Minimal Surfaces and Maximum Storage

Math Man has been know to refer to my purse as a black hole - particularly after one memorable night. There was a raging ice storm, I had to be at a board of trustees meeting. Math Man parked his car for me at the far end of campus, and took my tiny Mini home before things got truly dire out. At the end of the meeting, I couldn't find my car keys. I dug through my bag, certain I'd put them in there. "They must be in my office," I thought. A quarter-mile trudge across campus through sleet and ice, to my office. A colleague lets me in, but no keys.

No keys? I search under papers, and in the few odd spots I might have tucked them. Not there. As a last ditch effort to avoid calling Math Man and confessing I had lost my keys, I emptied my bag on my desk. Bingo. The keys. Where were they when I was looking for them, I wondered.

My current theory, hatched as I dug through things to tuck into my briefcase before a trip yesterday, is that my purse is roughly speaking a sphere (at least when I have it pretty full). A sphere is a minimal surface, the smallest amount of material that can enclose a given volume. In other words, it has the most "inside" stuff in the least "outside" stuff. No wonder I can't find anything! It's all in the middle...


  1. It sounds very efficient. The most amount of stuff in the least amount of space. I once lost my keys in my purse for a week; I thought they had fallen out in the sand at the beach and were gone forever. I was very embarassed to find them after all that time - it is not a small collection of keys.

  2. I no longer feel so bad!

  3. hmmm.. you just got to love surface area to volume ratios. I tend to lock myself out of my classroom by leaving my keys in a jacket in my room.

  4. Hmm, I won't pretend to understand the math part of this, since my brain doesn't seem to work that way. But it does make sense. How else could I fit all that stuff in my purse, when the amount and volume of it is so amazing when it's dumped out?