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Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Top" Balloon Animals

Have you ever seen someone make balloon animals or other kinds of balloon sculpture? Take look at the work of balloon genius John Cassidy of Mont Clare PA (click on "TV" from the home page). John makes all kinds of animals, plants, and even hats! He even holds several world's records for speedy balloon sculpting. He once created 654 balloon sculptures in one hour!

OK, so they're cool, but you might be wondering how balloons animals are related to science. Dr. B must admit to you that John is a member of her family (a cousin-in-law). So, is this post just an attempt to get you to look at his site? No, actually, the making of balloon animals is related to an area of mathematics called topology. Topology is the study of the way that three-dimensional shapes can be transformed from one into another, without cutting or gluing. Also, the beginning and ending shapes must have the same number of holes (which is obviously zero for a balloon!). So why do mathematicians study topology? It helps them plan efficient road, train, and computer systems.

You can experiment with topology using clay. First, make a ball. Then try smushing it into different shapes, like a cube, a flat sheet, or a box. Remember that you can push and pull all you want, but that you can't break the clay apart, stick two parts together, or make a hole. Next, make a clay donut. Can you figure out how to change it into the shape of a coffee mug? Or, you can just blow up some long, skinny balloons and make some animals! The next post will show you what John calls "the world's easiest balloon animal"!

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