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The Kid Should See This

The Catenary and Mathematics All Around Us

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The word catenary comes from catēna, the Latin word for chain. In this video from 2012, mathematician James Grime explores the catenary—the U-shape created when a uniform gravitational force acts upon a flexible rope or chain hung by two points.

From the wires of a pylon to the thread of a spider’s web. From the world of bubbles to the world of architecture. What is the catenary and why is it all around us?

catenary with a rope
This magic-revealing math video can appeal to all ages, especially when paired with a hands-on exploration with chains, ropes, and bubbles. The mid-video review of mathematical formulas may resonate more clearly with older learners.

bubble geometry
formula
Catenaries are never parabolas. Related reading: Catenary arches and the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.

Watch these related geometry videos next:
• Fun with Arches, a series of engineering demonstrations
Parabolas (etc.) by Radiolab + Everynone
• Making efficient shapes with bubbles – The Bubbleologist
Spaghetti bridges, a DIY engineering activity for kids (and adults)

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