Sunday, May 29, 2016

Homeschool Science: Zometool Crystallizations

In our rocks and minerals study, the kids learned about atoms, elements, and molecules before we even began to look at rocks and minerals. Now that we've finally reached the minerals unit, the kids are well-prepared to learn that minerals are crystalline solid substances with specific chemical compositions.

We built paper crystal models, grew crystals from sugar and other substances, and played a dice game involving the chemical composition of minerals, and I'll tell you about those another time, but what I want to show you now is the coolest thing EVER that we did with our Zometools: we built our own crystal structures from the ground up, and we didn't know what we would get until we got it.

The basic idea behind building a crystal is that you first build a simple polygon (perhaps one of the ones that we built in our stellation activity). Then you tile that polygon. Once you've tiled it two-dimensionally, you stretch your brain to figure out how to logically tile it three-dimensionally, and off you go!

Interestingly, Syd, who if held at gunpoint I would admit is my more "visual" kid, had more trouble with this activity than Will. Will chose to make the simple square that she first made in our stellations activity, and it's an intuitive process, when you have a square, to make a cube from it. She ended up with quite a lovely symmetrical structure that she happily worked on for quite a long time, for her:

Syd had trouble, in her first iteration, with arriving at a stable two-dimensional shape and correctly tiling it. After a couple of frustrating tries, she finally, perhaps inspired by Will, landed on the rectangle, and then tiling it and making it three-dimensional was a breeze:

I, now... I believe that I may have inadvertently broken my brain.

I began simply enough with a kite shape. Just a kite. It was easy to tile it two-dimensionally, and after doing that several times, I thought that I could see how to bring one of the short sides of the kite out three-dimensionally and extend the kite form that way. When I got that one figured out, I could see how naturally another kite went with it. And then another. And then after several, I could see another polygon forming, that I could create simply by adding the struts that fit perfectly between the balls. And then... I looked at it, and didn't quite understand what the hell I had:

 Seriously, what the hell? This started out as just a simple KITE! Here's another view of the weirdness:

Do you see how I've somehow made two perfect hexagons in there?

Okay, and it gets weirder. I have worked on this crazy thing for hours, long after the kids lost interest in their creations. It's hard for my brain to always see where the next logical extension goes, and I wonder if I've gotten it wrong in a couple of places, but finally, after using up every single one of those small red struts so that it's impossible to build anything else onto the structure without them, here's what I have:

You can see that as well as the hexagons, I now have a regular ten-sided decagon, but those red struts, seen on edge, alternate up and down to make it:

I've got more hexagons in there, also with some alternating struts--

--and although I've figured out that one single complete crystal is result of five kites on top and five kites on bottom, as you can see if you look closely at the top part of my structure here--

--I am nowhere near figuring out a complete, regular structure once you start intersecting those crystals. This structure is unfinished, but all those sticky-outy bits? I have no idea what's going to happen to them if I continue to build:

I am delighted, astounded, and also super-confused about how my simple shape got this complicated this quickly. I tried looking it up to see how it looks when completed, but I can't find it, so I'm probably going to win a pretty big award for discovering it.

And yes, I am kinda thinking about buying another 60-buck set of Zometools just so I can keep working on it...

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