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The Kid Should See This

The Catenary and Mathematics All Around Us

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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