Einstein problem

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In plane geometry, the einstein problem asks about the existence of a single prototile that by itself forms an aperiodic set of prototiles, that is, a shape that can tessellate space, but only in a nonperiodic way. Such a shape is called an "einstein" (not to be confused with the physicist Albert Einstein), a play on the German words ein Stein, meaning one tile. Depending on the particular definitions of nonperiodicity and the specifications of what sets may qualify as tiles and what types of matching rules are permitted, the problem is either open or solved. The einstein problem can be seen as a natural extension of the second part of Hilbert's eighteenth problem, which asks for a single polyhedron that tiles Euclidean 3-space, but such that no tessellation by this polyhedron is isohedral. [1] Such anisohedral tiles were found by Karl Reinhardt in 1928, but these anisohedral tiles all tile space periodically.


Proposed solutions

The Socolar-Taylor tile is a proposed solution to the einstein problem. Socolar-Taylor tile.svg
The Socolar–Taylor tile is a proposed solution to the einstein problem.

In 1988, Peter Schmitt discovered a single aperiodic prototile in 3-dimensional Euclidean space. While no tiling by this prototile admits a translation as a symmetry, some have a screw symmetry. The screw operation involves a combination of a translation and a rotation through an irrational multiple of π, so no number of repeated operations ever yield a pure translation. This construction was subsequently extended by John Horton Conway and Ludwig Danzer to a convex aperiodic prototile, the Schmitt-Conway-Danzer tile. The presence of the screw symmetry resulted in a reevaluation of the requirements for non-periodicity. [2] Chaim Goodman-Strauss suggested that a tiling be considered strongly aperiodic if it admits no infinite cyclic group of Euclidean motions as symmetries, and that only tile sets which enforce strong aperiodicity be called strongly aperiodic, while other sets are to be called weakly aperiodic. [3]

In 1996, Petra Gummelt constructed a decorated decagonal tile and showed that when two kinds of overlaps between pairs of tiles are allowed, the tiles can cover the plane, but only non-periodically. [4] A tiling is usually understood to be a covering with no overlaps, and so the Gummelt tile is not considered an aperiodic prototile. An aperiodic tile set in the Euclidean plane that consists of just one tile–the Socolar–Taylor tile–was proposed in early 2010 by Joshua Socolar and Joan Taylor. [5] This construction requires matching rules, rules that restrict the relative orientation of two tiles and that make reference to decorations drawn on the tiles, and these rules apply to pairs of nonadjacent tiles. Alternatively, an undecorated tile with no matching rules may be constructed, but the tile is not connected. The construction can be extended to a three-dimensional, connected tile with no matching rules, but this tile allows tilings that are periodic in one direction, and so it is only weakly aperiodic. Moreover, the tile is not simply connected.

The existence of a strongly aperiodic tile set for the Euclidean plane consisting of one connected tile without matching rules is an unsolved problem.

See also

Related Research Articles

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In the mathematical theory of tessellations, a prototile is one of the shapes of a tile in a tessellation.

Tessellation Tiling of a plane in mathematics

A tessellation or tiling is the covering of a surface, often a plane, using one or more geometric shapes, called tiles, with no overlaps and no gaps. In mathematics, tessellation can be generalized to higher dimensions and a variety of geometries.

Aperiodic tiling Specific form of plane tiling in mathematics

An aperiodic tiling is a non-periodic tiling with the additional property that it does not contain arbitrarily large periodic regions or patches. A set of tile-types is aperiodic if copies of these tiles can form only non-periodic tilings. The Penrose tilings are the best-known examples of aperiodic tilings.


In geometry, the gyrobifastigium is the 26th Johnson solid (J26). It can be constructed by joining two face-regular triangular prisms along corresponding square faces, giving a quarter-turn to one prism. It is the only Johnson solid that can tile three-dimensional space.

Hilbert's eighteenth problem is one of the 23 Hilbert problems set out in a celebrated list compiled in 1900 by mathematician David Hilbert. It asks three separate questions about lattices and sphere packing in Euclidean space.

In geometry, a tile substitution is a method for constructing highly ordered tilings. Most importantly, some tile substitutions generate aperiodic tilings, which are tilings whose prototiles do not admit any tiling with translational symmetry. The most famous of these are the Penrose tilings. Substitution tilings are special cases of finite subdivision rules, which do not require the tiles to be geometrically rigid.

In geometry, a skew apeirohedron is an infinite skew polyhedron consisting of nonplanar faces or nonplanar vertex figures, allowing the figure to extend indefinitely without folding round to form a closed surface.

Anisohedral tiling

In geometry, a shape is said to be anisohedral if it admits a tiling, but no such tiling is isohedral (tile-transitive); that is, in any tiling by that shape there are two tiles that are not equivalent under any symmetry of the tiling. A tiling by an anisohedral tile is referred to as an anisohedral tiling.

Ammann–Beenker tiling

In geometry, an Ammann–Beenker tiling is a nonperiodic tiling which can be generated either by an aperiodic set of prototiles as done by Robert Ammann in the 1970s, or by the cut-and-project method as done independently by F. P. M. Beenker. Because all tilings obtained with the tiles are non-periodic, Ammann–Beenker tilings are considered aperiodic tilings. They are one of the five sets of tilings discovered by Ammann and described in Tilings and Patterns.

Penrose tiling Non-periodic tiling of the plane

A Penrose tiling is an example of an aperiodic tiling. Here, a tiling is a covering of the plane by non-overlapping polygons or other shapes, and aperiodic means that shifting any tiling with these shapes by any finite distance, without rotation, cannot produce the same tiling. However, despite their lack of translational symmetry, Penrose tilings may have both reflection symmetry and fivefold rotational symmetry. Penrose tilings are named after mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose, who investigated them in the 1970s.

Pythagorean tiling Tiling by squares of two sizes

A Pythagorean tiling or two squares tessellation is a tiling of a Euclidean plane by squares of two different sizes, in which each square touches four squares of the other size on its four sides. Many proofs of the Pythagorean theorem are based on it, explaining its name. It is commonly used as a pattern for floor tiles. When used for this, it is also known as a hopscotch pattern or pinwheel pattern, but it should not be confused with the mathematical pinwheel tiling, an unrelated pattern.

Socolar–Taylor tile Aperiodic tile

The Socolar–Taylor tile is a single non-connected tile which is aperiodic on the Euclidean plane, meaning that it admits only non-periodic tilings of the plane, with rotations and reflections of the tile allowed. It is the first known example of a single aperiodic tile, or "einstein". The basic version of the tile is a simple hexagon, with printed designs to enforce a local matching rule, regarding how the tiles may be placed. It is currently unknown whether this rule may be geometrically implemented in two dimensions while keeping the tile a connected set.

Aperiodic set of prototiles

A set of prototiles is aperiodic if copies of the prototiles can be assembled to create tilings, such that all possible tessellation patterns are non-periodic. The aperiodicity referred to is a property of the particular set of prototiles; the various resulting tilings themselves are just non-periodic.

In geometry, a plesiohedron is a special kind of space-filling polyhedron, defined as the Voronoi cell of a symmetric Delone set. Three-dimensional Euclidean space can be completely filled by copies of any one of these shapes, with no overlaps. The resulting honeycomb will have symmetries that take any copy of the plesiohedron to any other copy.

In geometry and crystallography, a stereohedron is a convex polyhedron that fills space isohedrally, meaning that the symmetries of the tiling take any copy of the stereohedron to any other copy.

Chaim Goodman-Strauss American mathematician

Chaim Goodman-Strauss is an American mathematician who works in convex geometry, especially aperiodic tiling. He is on the faculty of the University of Arkansas and is a co-author with John H. Conway of The Symmetries of Things, a comprehensive book surveying the mathematical theory of patterns.

Quasicrystals and Geometry is a book on quasicrystals and aperiodic tiling by Marjorie Senechal, published in 1995 by Cambridge University Press (ISBN 0-521-37259-3).

Chair tiling Nonperiodic substitution tiling

In geometry, a chair tiling is a nonperiodic substitution tiling created from L-tromino prototiles. These prototiles are examples of rep-tiles and so an iterative process of decomposing the L tiles into smaller copies and then rescaling them to their original size can be used to cover patches of the plane. Chair tilings do not possess translational symmetry, i.e., they are examples of nonperiodic tilings, but the chair tiles are not aperiodic tiles since they are not forced to tile nonperiodically by themselves. The trilobite and cross tiles are aperiodic tiles that enforce the chair tiling substitution structure and these tiles have been modified to a simple aperiodic set of tiles using matching rules enforcing the same structure. Barge et al. have computed the Čech cohomology of the chair tiling and it has been shown that chair tilings can also be obtained via a cut-and-project scheme.


  1. Senechal, Marjorie (1996) [1995]. Quasicrystals and Geometry (corrected paperback ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 22–24. ISBN   0-521-57541-9.
  2. Radin, Charles (1995). "Aperiodic tilings in higher dimensions". Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society . American Mathematical Society. 123 (11): 3543–3548. doi: 10.2307/2161105 . JSTOR   2161105. MR   1277129.
  3. Goodman-Strauss, Chaim (2000-01-10). "Open Questions in Tiling" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 18 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-24.
  4. Gummelt, Petra (1996). "Penrose Tilings as Coverings of Congruent Decagons". Geometriae Dedicata. 62 (1): 1–17. doi:10.1007/BF00239998.
  5. Socolar, Joshua E. S.; Taylor, Joan M. (2011). "An Aperiodic Hexagonal Tile". Journal of Combinatorial Theory, Series A. 118 (8): 2207–2231. arXiv: 1003.4279 . doi:10.1016/j.jcta.2011.05.001.