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Docklands Science - March 2013

05 Mar 2013

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Southern Star drama – could we have seen it coming?

By David Sibenaler

Was the Southern Star Observation Wheel destined to fail?

If you were to ask a mathematician, their answer would likely be yes.

Their answer would likely be yes because in ancient times, before computers, mathematicians, architects and all other people who wanted to create shapes, they did so using a ruler and compass.

Euclid (330-260 BC) was a famous Greek mathematician who is credited as being the founder of geometry. Geometry is a stream of maths concerned with shapes. Euclid was able to construct infinitely many shapes using ruler and compass. That being said, there were a few shapes that he was unable to construct and that he later proved to be impossible. The most antagonising shape that Euclid was unable to construct was the seemingly simple heptagon.

The Southern Star Observation Wheel has seven spokes that protrude from the centre of the wheel, reflecting the seven-pointed star emblazoned on the Australian flag. By drawing lines that connect each spike, a heptagon can be created (as shown in the picture). A heptagon is simply a seven-sided polygon. A polygon is a two dimensional shape with four or more angles and sides. Polygons that you would most likely be familiar with would be pentagons (five sided polygon) and hexagons (six sided polygon), to name a couple.

The reason that the heptagon drew so much attention as being a shape that was impossible to construct with ruler and compass was due to it being the smallest shape of all the shapes unable to be drawn. Thus, to many a mathematician it seemed like a problem that must be able to be overcome.

Some 2000 years has passed since Euclid unsuccessfully attempted to draw a heptagon with ruler and compass. Despite a lot of mathematical minds being dedicated to the challenge, no progress has been made.

Could this ancient problem be the reason for the failure of the first version of the Southern Star Observation Wheel? Well, not really. These days, our sophisticated technology has made this problem obsolete. Surely, the architects who devised the Southern Star Observation Wheel did not rely on ruler and compass to devise their draft - one would hope!

The wheel is slated to re-open in the second half of the year. We shall now wait, with bated breath, to see its completion. Hopefully its shape will not further riddle its development.

David Sibenaler is a Docklands resident and a budding science communicator.

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