October 5, 1992

It's a question that has teased mathematicians for 150 years. Figuring the shape of a bubble within a flat ring is easy - but try finding the area of a bubble in a slightly twisted metal loop.

Now researchers say they have found a solution that also will solve many practical problems of science and industry.

The bubble problem, first proposed by Belgium physicist Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau, stumped many of the great minds of math. That's because mathematical equations describe a world where a line or a surface has no weight or thickness. But in the real world of bubbles, even the thinnest soap film has dimensions.

To come up with a solution, researchers at the University of California campuses at San Diego and Los Angeles created an imaginary soap bubble with an assigned thickness. They reduced the thickness until it approached zero and this, they say, is extremely close to the answer to Plateau's mathematical problem. Their methods are described in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

UCSD computer science professor T.C. Hu hopes the work will lead to a new branch of mathematics - dimensional geometry. "By putting size and weight into it, you get more realistic answer," said Hu, who wrote the article with UCLA professor Andrew Kahng and professor Gabriel Robins of the University of Virginia.

The method could be used to construct smaller, faster computer chips and to map paths to fit odd-shaped spaces using the least amount of material possible, said UCLA math professor Russel Caflisch.

"Not too many people really want to find the shape of a soap film, but it could be used to make parts for cars, for example," Caflisch said.

*Actual Scanned Article*

**Articles about Robins**

- Robins Tackles Computing Problems,
*November 10, 2000* - Give this to Will Smith,
*September 5, 2000* - Gabriel Robins Receives VEF Faculty Appreciation Award,
*May 2, 1998* - Packard Award Given to Gabriel Robins in the School of Engineering and Applied Science,
*Opportunities, May-June 1996* - Workshop: Physical Design not in Great Shape,
*Electronic Engineering Times, April 22, 1996* - Computer Whiz and Then Some,
*Virginia Engineering, Spring 1996* - Computer Scientist Wins Top Fellowship,
*Virginia Engineering, Winter, 1996* - Robins receives grant of $500K from Packard Foundation,
*University Journal, October 13, 1995* - Award-Winning Teachers Help Students Make Their Own Discoveries,
*Inside UVA, April 28, 1995* - Faculty members earn recognition from University,
*Cavalier Daily, April 26, 1995* - Robins Earns Young Investigator Award,
*Virginia Engineering, Winter 1994* - Mathematics: Bubble Problem's Practical Potential,
*Washington Post, October 5, 1992* - Floating an Answer to Bubble Riddle,
*Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1992* - Scientists Float a New Solution to Puzzling Bubble,
*San Diego Union-Tribune, October 1, 1992*