A Gömböc is a strange object. It looks a little bit like an egg with sharp edges but there is something very special about it. Until quite recently, no-one knew whether Gömböcs even existed. I fell in love with them during the recording of an episode of my Ten Words podcast, not just for scientific reasons, but because they represent something very emotive that resonates with all of us on a deeper level.
So what are Gömböcs and what makes them special?
Imagine an ordinary egg. You can put it down on its side, it will roll around a little but eventually come to rest. You can nudge it, but as long as you don’t do it too hard it will settle down again. With a lot of skill you can also balance it on one of its two ends: it’s not easy and if you manage, it won’t last long. The slightest disturbance will make it topple over.
The two tips of the egg are known as unstable equilibrium points. “Equilibrium” because you can balance the egg on them and “unstable” because the egg will fall over at the slightest nudge. The points around the egg’s body on which it balances robustly are called stable equilibrium points.
Can you find a two-dimensional shape that is convex (it doesn’t bulge inwards) and homeogeneous (the material it’s made of is uniform throughout without bulges or weights) that has just one stable and one unstable equilibrium point? The answer is “no”. This is also true in many three dimensional objects, so mathematicians naturally assumed that there isn’t a three-dimensional convex and homogenuous shape with just one stable and one unstable point of equilibrium. Many tried to prove the result, but failed.
Until Gábor Domokos turned up.
Gábor is wonderful chap, and a very distinguished Hungarian mathematician and engineer who works with The Budapest University of Technology and Economics. When he heard about this problem and the countless attempts to solve this problem, he decided to dedicate his lifes work to solving it.
“I didn’t know of any problem so beautiful that any amount of my time spent trying to solve it would not be wasted”. Gábor Domokos
As a mathematician, what a wonderful attitude. And it is that which inspires me. Not so much that he discovered this mythical object in 2006 after 10 years of studying and research (spending a lot of time on beaches in the Mediterranean looking at pebbles!), but that he focused on solving one big issue.
Gábor discovered the world’s only mathematically perfect self-righting object.
I told this story at length on my podcast last year and the story never left me. In fact it inspired me to move to a new job, working in an industry that I’ve never been in before, to take on a role that I’ve never had before. Good stories have the power to do that don’t they. Take you somewhere (literally) that you didn’t expect to go?
The energy and utilities industry is far from sexy and is a far cry from the glitz and glamour of music, tv, fashion, film and sport where I have spent most of my time working with marketers over the last 20 years. And working as a CCO (chief customer officer) is quite a different role to the CMO (chief marketing officer) work I have been heavily involved in recently. But working in an industry that is also trying to solve some of the planets biggest problems, around climate change and building a sustainable agenda that people believe in, seems to me such a beautiful challenge that no amount of time spent on it would be wasted.
It makes you wonder doesn’t it, what is there that you could dedicate your lifes work to? What problem is so big and so beautiful that it could inspire you to bounce out of bed every day?
Good questions aren’t they?