Wolfram Research-Sponsored Team Creates Intricate Snow
January 23, 2001--Wolfram Research was the major corporate sponsor of one
of the 15 international teams selected to participate in this
year's snow sculpture competition. In Breckenridge, Colorado,
from January 16 to 20, teams from
around the world came together to compete in this 11th annual
competition. The Wolfram Research-sponsored Minnesota team constructed
White Narcissus, a sculpture designed by team member Robert Longhurst.
The design is a complex wraparound shape related to saddle-like
shapes (minimal surfaces) that are formed by soap film when wire frame is
dipped into soapy water. The idea of using saddle shapes
to enhance structural strength allows the sculpting of very thin shapes
with complicated twists. Computer graphics are used to view the shape
from different angles and to learn more about its subtle details.
On Tuesday, January 16, each of the four-person teams was allocated a 20-ton, 10 x
10 x 12-foot block of snow from which to create the sculpture using only
nonpower hand tools. The Minnesota team members included Longhurst, an
experienced wood and stone sculptor; returning members
Stan Wagon and Dan Schwalbe, faculty from the Mathematics
Department of Macalester College; and John Bruning of Tropel
Corporation. Matthias Weber, a mathematician from the Mathematical Sciences
Research Institute in Berkeley, served as
the nonsculpting team photographer and manager.
Weber, who worked the sculpture in Mathematica said, "Stan Wagon
showed me photographs of this sculpture in October 2000 and asked me
whether I could come up with a parameterization of this surface. The sculpture
looked quite complicated; from a single photograph it is even hard to say
how many boundary curves there are. Also, it seemed as if there were two
straight lines on the surface, a very useful thing when one is looking for
a parameterization of a minimal surface." The
"somewhat surprising results" of Weber's investigations
can be found online.
Even though the Minnesota team failed to place in this year's competition, team
captain Wagon said, "We had great fun constructing it; the weather
was super, the team worked well together, and we still love the piece!"
Additional information and photographs of the
and of White Narcissus are available.
Photos from the 1999 and
international snow sculpture competitions
are also available.