hosted by the Harvey Mudd College Math Department created, authored and ©1999-2010 by Francis Su

The Math Fun Facts App!

List All : List Recent : List Popular
About Math Fun Facts / How to Use
Contributors / Fun Facts Home
© 1999-2010 by Francis Edward Su

From the Fun Fact files, here is a Fun Fact at the Medium level:

# Borsuk-Ulam Theorem

The Borsuk-Ulam theorem is another amazing theorem from topology. An informal version of the theorem says that at any given moment on the earth's surface, there exist 2 antipodal points (on exactly opposite sides of the earth) with the same temperature and barometric pressure!

More formally, it says that any continuous function from an n-sphere to Rn must send a pair of antipodal points to the same point. (So, in the above statement, we are assuming that temperature and barometric pressure are continuous functions.)

Presentation Suggestions:
Show your students the 1-dimensional version: on the equator, there must exist opposite points with the same temperature. Draw a few pictures of possible temperature distributions to convince them that it is true.

The Math Behind the Fact:
The one dimensional proof gives some idea why the theorem is true: if you compare opposite points A and B on the equator, suppose A starts out warmer than B. As you move A and B together around the equator, you will move A into B's original position, and simultaneously B into A's original position. But by that point A must be cooler than B. So somewhere in between (appealing to continuity) they must have been the same temperature!

On an unrelated note, the Borsuk-Ulam theorem implies the Brouwer fixed point theorem, and there's an elementary proof! See the reference.

Su, Francis E., et al. "Borsuk-Ulam Theorem." Math Fun Facts. <http://www.math.hmc.edu/funfacts>.

References:
F.E. Su, "Borsuk-Ulam implies Brouwer: a direct construction,"
Amer. Math. Monthly, Oct. 1997.

Keywords:    topology
Subjects:    topology
Level:    Medium
Fun Fact suggested by:   Francis Su
Suggestions? Use this form.
4.29
current
rating
Click to rate this Fun Fact...
*   Awesome! I totally dig it!
*   Fun enough to tell a friend!
*   Mildly interesting
*   Not really noteworthy
and see the most popular Facts!
New: get the MathFeed iPhone App!

Brings you news and views on math:
showcasing its power, beauty, and humanity

Want another Math Fun Fact?

For more fun, tour the Mathematics Department at Harvey Mudd College!