Mathematics of Arch explained for Assembly Series

The Gateway Arch soars above St. Louis. Eero Saarinen’s awe-inspiring design is visually stunning, extraordinarily graceful and an architectural masterpiece, but it is also a mathematical marvel.

Ever wondered about the shape of the Gateway Arch?

Pre-eminent mathematician Robert Osserman, Ph.D., certainly has and will explain its mathematical mysteries in an Assembly Series lecture “How the Gateway Arch Got Its Shape” at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, in Steinberg Hall Auditorium. The talk is co-sponsored by the Department of Mathematics in Arts & Sciences.

Osserman’s visit coincides with an exhibition of Eero Saarinen’s work, “Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future,” on view at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum through April 27.

The Arch is known as a weighted catenary curve. In Latin, catenary refers to a chain. Why did it take this particular shape? Could it be the most efficient way to equalize pressure of an arch? How does that work? And just how did the Arch get its shape? Was it a sketch or model made by Saarinen, or perhaps a mathematical equation? There are many questions and many surprising answers.

Osserman earned a doctorate at Harvard University, where he worked on geometric function theory and on differential geometry, combining the two in a new global theory of minimal surfaces. He also has worked on isoperimetric inequality and related geometric questions. He is the author of several books.

Immediately preceding Osserman’s talk, the film “Monument to the Dream: America’s Gateway Arch, an Engineering Triumph,” by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Charles Guggenheim will be shown at 3:30 p.m. in Steinberg Hall Auditorium.

For more information about this or any Assembly Series program, call 935-4620.