Roger Penrose & His Impossible Objects

By Madhavi Pothukuchi

August 8, 2022

Do you ever look at an optical illusion and wonder about its brilliance? Even though many of them can confound our brains to a great extent, the most surreal of them would be the 'impossible objects.' Roger Penrose is credited with creating many of the impossible objects of today. Let’s learn more about his groundbreaking work.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Roger Penrose is a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician and scientist who collaborated with Stephen Hawking to work on black holes. Penrose is also known for his incredible work on 2D figures that project an optical 3D illusion. 

In the 1950s, Penrose and his father, psychiatrist Lionel Penrose, devised the Penrose Triangle. It is a two-dimensional drawing of a triangle that looks three-dimensional, with continuous lines.

The Penrose Triangle has inspired many geometric figures like the Penrose Circle and the Impossible Trident. These figures cannot exist in Euclidean space. If you draw a straight line around the Penrose Triangle, a Möbius Strip is formed. 

In the 70s, Penrose also studied tiling, the mathematics of geometric patterns. He introduced Penrose Tiling, which means that if you move certain tiles in a pattern to multiply the pattern, it will not form the same pattern twice. These elaborate patterns are used in Islamic architecture too.

Penrose used shapes like the star, a boat (3/5ths of a star), and a rhombus and arranged them in such a way that they produced a pattern that could be expanded without repeating the original smaller pattern. Penrose Tiling ensures an infinite number of unique patterns in the same, larger pattern. 

Penrose is also known for designing the Penrose Stairs, a 2D staircase in which the stairs take four 90-degree turns as they go up and down in a continuous loop. These stairs inspired the work of artist MC Escher, who designed bizarre objects with the help of Penrose. 

Penrose is one of the greatest living mathematicians and physicists who has changed how we see the world and the universe. He continues his work in quantum gravity and mathematics even today. 

Image Source: Wikipedia

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