12 pentagons!

I’ve been reading Sternberg’s “Group Theory and Physics”, Cambridge University, reprinted 1999. On pages 43 to 44 he says, “… every fullerene has exactly 12 pentagons. This is not an accident.”

The stable structure of carbon which has 60 carbon atoms arranged like the vertices of a soccer ball is called a buckyball. It turns out that, in similar structures, we can have any even number, greater than 18, of carbon atoms except for 22. This is equivalent to polyhedra having 12 pentagons and any number of hexagons except 1.

This family of structures consists of polyhedra whose faces are either pentagons or hexagons. In chemistry they are labeled by the number of carbon atoms, so they talk about C_{20},  C_{22}, ...  C_{60}, ...  C_{72}, ....\

I find it unforgettable and marvelous that the number of pentagons is always exactly 12. And I can prove it.
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Nonplanar graphs & the Euler characteristic

Introduction and K4, the complete graph on 4 vertices

I want to show you something clever, but I’m going to omit the details of how we justify part of it. And I’m going to raise a question about another part of it. But I think this application of the Euler characteristic is interesting, even if I won’t or can’t cross all the t’s.

We can define the Euler characteristic of a graph as \chi = v - e\ . We can show, for example, that every tree (a graph with no closed paths) has \chi = 1\ . If a graph is not a tree, then the closed path might create a face, but we don’t count the faces.

One question that arises when we have a graph is: is the graph planar? That is, can it be drawn in the plane so that edges do not have extraneous intersections?

Better to show you. Draw a square (or rectangle), and draw the two diagonals. This is called K4, the complete graph on 4 vertices, because every vertex is connected to every other vertex.


But the diagonals cross each other.
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The Euler Characteristic: Teasers

These are things i came across when I first started looking at the Euler characteristic, in fact, when I was looking at triangulations in particular.


The Euler characteristic \chi generalizes to dimensions other than 2, and there are at least three noteworthy theorems involving the Euler characteristic. I’m not going to say much about them, because they, like so much else, are still outside my comfort zone. I’ll just barely tell you what they are, and leave you to chase them down if they interest you.

As we’ve seen, the Euler characteristic of a polyhedron is given by

\chi = v - e + f\ ,

where v, e, f are the numbers of vertices, edges, and faces. Homeomorphic polyhedra have the same Euler characteristic, and that means we can define the Euler characteristic of a topological surface as the Euler characteristic of any polyhedron which is homeomorphic to it.

This alternating-sign sum of the numbers of 0-, 1-, and 2- simplices generalizes in the obvious way: for an n-simplex, we take the sum, with alternating signs, of the numbers of k-simplices, for k <= n. As for surfaces, so for n-manifolds: this is a topological invariant, and we want to define the Euler characteristic of an n-manifold as the Euler characteristic of any k-simplex homeomorphic to it.
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The Euler characteristic (triangulations 2)

I want to talk about some things I saw when I was looking at triangulations. This also continues my reading in Bloch.

The major thing I saw was the Euler characteristic. We usually define it for polyhedra, as the alternating sum / difference of the number of vertices, edges, and faces (0-, 1- and 2- simplices)…

\chi = V - E + F

Then we would define it for a surface by taking the Euler characteristic of any polyhedron which is homeomorphic to that surface.

For that to be well-defined, of course, requires that all polyhedra which are homeomorphic to a surface S have the same Euler characteristic (as they do).

By the same token, we could define the Euler characteristic of a surface from any triangulation of the surface, after we show that all triangulations of a surface have the same Euler characteristic. Oh, and we’d better actually prove that every topological surface (every topological 2-manifold) can be triangulated.

Yes, they can be. Not true for topological 4-manifolds, and I think it’s still wide open for higher dimensions. In contrast, I believe that every differentiable n-manifold supports a unique piecewise linear (PL) structure (which is the generalization, they tell me, of triangulations).

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Triangulations of Surfaces: minimum number of triangles

Edited 4 Sep. search on “edit”.

Take a cube. If you cut it along a few edges, you could lay it out flat. To restore the cube, we identify certain edges with each other. Similarly for a tetrehedron, or a theoretical soccer ball (with flat faces), or any polyhedron. For studying surfaces by looking at polyhedra (i.e. picewise linear structure), it is convenient to use only triangular faces (2D simplices) rather than arbitrary polygonal faces. The analog of our cut and flattened cube is called a triangulation. As before, we want to identify certain edges with each other.

In particular, the following

is offered as a triangulation of a torus (with the top & bottom edges identified, and the left & right, as we’ve seen before).

Why are there so many triangles? I have wondered that since the first time I saw it.
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