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VIDEO: Davidson Mathematicians Help Construct Largest-Ever Model Fractal

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Annie Tang ’15 and Prof. of Mathematics Donna Molinek are leading the effort to create a MegaMenger “sponge” at Davidson.

Here's a riddle: what has infinite surface area, yet zero volume, and was modeled in the lobby of Chambers Building?

Answer: A mathematical fractal known as a "Menger Sponge."

Recently Davidson faculty, staff, students and community members collaborated to construct a level three Menger Sponge as part of the international MegaMenger project. Orchestrated by Queen Mary University of London, the project unites 20 sites around the world in an effort to create a level four Menger Sponge, made entirely out of business cards folded using modular origami. When virtually combined, the level four Menger Sponge will be the largest model of a fractal ever constructed.

So what exactly is a Menger Sponge? It's a three dimensional fractal, or an object that is physically similar at all scales. A Menger Sponge is created by hollowing a cube through its center on all sides. Each of the resulting smaller cubes is cut out in the same way, a process which continues until the fractal has infinite sides, yet zero volume.

Professor of Mathematics Donna Molinek led the effort to construct part of the fractal at Davidson, along with math major Annie Tang '15, from Beijing, China. Tang applied for and received funding for the project through a Spike! grant from the Friends of the Arts and a grant from the Robert Whitton Mentoring Fund.

Molinek explained, "It made sense for us to gain funding for the MegaMenger project through a Friends of the Arts Spike! grant, which promotes art that involves the community, and the Robert Whitton Mentoring Fund, which supports collaboration between students and faculty, continuing Robert Whitton's legacy of interacting with students beyond the classroom."

Now that Davidson has completed it's share of the Menger Sponge build, Molinek thanked the many volunteers who helped out. "I'm so grateful for all of the new friendships and connections that resulted through this project. It feels great to have reached the end of something that took weeks of effort."

Tang also expressed her pride for the project's completion. "Now that the Menger Sponge is finished, I think we should display it for a good while so everyone can admire all of our hard work," she said. "And maybe when exam week comes around, we can destroy it to let out some stress."