My talk at the 2018 Williams College math camp

[had to write this in a hurry before the family headed off for a vacation – sorry that this post is likely a little sloppy]

Yesterday I gave a talk at a math camp for high school students at Williams College. The camp is run by Williams College math professor Allison Pacelli and has about 20 student.

The topic for my talk was the hypercube. In the 90 min talk, I hoped to share some amazing ideas I learned from Kelsey Houston-Edwards and Federico Ardila and then just see where things went.

A short list of background material for the talk (in roughly the order in the talk is):

(1) A discussion of how to count vertices, edges, faces, and etc in cubes of various dimensions

This is a project I did with my kids a few years ago, and I think helps break the ice a little bit for students who are (rightfully!) confused about what the 4th dimension might even mean:

Counting geometric properties in 4 and 6 dimensionsf

(2) With that introduction I had the students build regular cubes out of the Zometool set I brought. Then I gave them some yellow struts and asked them to construct what they thought a hypercube might look like. From the prior discussion they knew how many points and lines to expect.

To my super happy surprise, the students built two different representations. I had my boys talk about the two different representations this morning. Funny enough, they had difference preferences for which was the “best” representation:

Here’s what my older son had to say:

Here’s what my younger son had to say:

At the end of this section of my talk I showed the students “Hypercube B” from Bathsheba Grossman (as well as my Zometool version):

(3) Now we moved on to looking at cubes in a different way -> standing on a corner rather than laying flat

I learned about this amazing way to view a cube from this amazing video from Kelsey Houston-Edwards. One of the many bits of incredible math in this video is the connection between Pascal’s triangle and cubes.

Here are the two projects I did with my kids a after seeing Houston-Edwards’s video:

Kelsey Houston-Edwards’s hypercube video is incredible

One more look at the hypercube

After challenging the kids to think about what the “slices” of the 3- and 4-dimensional cubes standing on their corners would be, I showed them the 3D printed versions I prepared for the talk:

Here are the 2d slices of the 3d cube:

Here are the 3d slices of the 4d cube:

(4) Finally, we looked at the connection between cubes and combinatorics

I learned about this connection from this amazing video from Numberphile and Federico Ardila:

Here is the project I did with my older son after seeing Ardila’s video:

Federico Ardila’s Combinatorics and Higher Dimensions video is incredible!

I walked the students through how the vertices of a square correspond to the subsets of a 2-element set and then asked them to show how the vertices of a cube correspond to the subsets of a 3-element set.

There were a lot of oohs and ahhs as the students saw the elements of Pascal’s triangle emerge again.

Then I asked the students to find the correspondence between the 4-d cubes they’d made and subsets of a 4-elements set. I was incredibly happy to hear three different explanations from the students about how this correspondence worked – I actually wish these explanations were on video because I think Ardila would have absolutely loved to hear them.

(5) One last note

If you find all these properties of 4-D cubes as neat as I do, Jim Propp has a fantastic essay about 4 dimensional cubes:

Jim Propp’s essay Time and Tesseracts

By lucky coincidence, this essay was published as I was trying to think about how to structure my talk and was the final little push I needed to put all the ideas together.


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