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Why is there a Science section at the Roger's Connection web site? Certainly Roger's Connection can be used simply as a construction toy. But Roger's Connection can also be used as an enjoyable tool for understanding some aspects of the fundamental design of the natural world more deeply. How is this possible? In simplest terms, it is because of the way that the Roger's Connection magnetic rods and connector balls work together.
When connections are first made with Roger's Connection they are completely flexible as shown above. This is very similar to the connections formed between the atoms that make up molecules. The connections between atoms, while flexible, are also different, in that they do generally have specific angles at which they prefer to be connected. Still, there is a lot of similarity. Even though atomic connections are very flexible, nature still manages to build large molecules that are stable, by using sound design principles. These same design principles also give rise to larger stable designs that are made of atoms, like rocks, plants, and people. By using some of the same design principles that are found in nature, it is also possible to build Roger's Connection designs that are stable, even though these connections are also flexible.
By learning to build stable designs with Roger's Connection, it is possible to spontaneously discover some of the most important design principles that are found in the natural world. This is why Roger's Connection can be a powerful yet enjoyable educational tool for learning about natural design principles. What are these natural design principles that give rise to stable designs both in nature and when building with Roger's Connection? One of the fundamental design principles involves the use of triangles. Most people are much more familiar with building with squares, than with triangles. After all, our everyday world is filled with the 90 degree angles that are found in everything from children's building blocks, construction bricks, cardboard boxes, and most buildings. We are much less familiar with the 60 degree angles that are found in triangles. Yet as you will soon begin to discover, it is in fact the triangle, and the three dimensional shapes that can be built with it, that are more fundamental than the square and the cube, as the basic building blocks of nature.
Triangles and Squares
Please also see our more extensive lesson on this topic:
Building Strong Shapes with Triangles.
Let's look at this with a Roger's Connection example. When a triangle is formed, there is exactly one angle that will lock in the opposite magnetic rod. That angle is 60 degrees. This is true for each of the three sides of the triangle. Once the angles of the triangle are locked in, the sides can not be move with respect to each other. This makes the triangle extremely strong.
All of the more complicated designs that make use of the triangle are also very strong. Shown here for example, is a tetrahedron, an octahedron, and an icosahedron. Each of these can be used in various combinations as the basis for building yet more complicated designs.
On the other hand, if a Roger's Connection square is made as shown here, then each corner angle does not brace any of the other sides, and the sides can continue to move with respect to each other as shown. Thus, the square is not a stable structure, and unreinforced designs that use it, like cubes, and designs that are made from cubes, are also unstable.
We can create the illusion of strength in a square. For example, if we built a square with four lengths of wood that were nailed together, then it might seem pretty strong. But notice that all of the strength of the square would come from the strength of the nails. None of the strength comes from the basic design itself. If you tried to distort the square as in the picture above, the nails would bend. On the other hand, if you used three pieces of wood to make a triangle, and nailed those together, you would have created a very strong shape. In this case, the strength comes from the mutual reinforcement of the three sides, and not from the ability of the nails to resist bending.
Squares can be made stronger by adding a diagonal brace between any two opposite corners, which effectively transforms the weaker square into two strong triangles, as shown here.
In the natural world, nothing is held together with nails, as you may have noticed. Rather, it is the forces of nature that hold things together. Electrical attraction holds the atoms and molecules of our bodies together, and gravity keeps all of the planets and stars in their proper relative motions. Without the electrical force, the trillions of atoms in our our bodies would instantly fly apart, and those atoms themselves would disintegrate as the electrons were no longer held in orbit around the atomic nucleus. Without gravity, the Earth would stop circling the sun, as would all of the other planets in the solar system, as they all sped away in different directions. Over time, the galaxy itself would fly apart. In Roger's Connection, it is the attractive magnetic force between the magnetic rods and the connector balls that substitute for the electrical attraction and gravitational forces discussed above.
We can now see that designs both in nature and those made with Roger's Connection, share a common requirement that these designs be structurally sound. If they are not, then they will simply fall apart, either by themselves, or with just a little bit of encouragement. With most other types of construction toys, the connections between the parts are much more rigid than in Roger's Connection. This can be an advantage at times, but it also teaches fundamentally flawed lessons about how nature really works. People using those systems get a false sense of what kinds of designs are stable, and what kinds of designs are unstable.
When architects, engineers, and other kinds of designers build things like buildings, bridges, space stations, or even furniture, those designs that most closely follow the most successful natural principles that nature has devised over billions of years, turn out to be the most successful, lasting, and safest designs. That's why it's important for people who enter these and many related fields to receive correct reinforcement from an early age, about how nature really works. It can also be argued that this kind of reinforcement affects other kinds of thinking as well, and can be important, useful, and interesting, even for people who have no intentions of ever building any space stations!
The best part of Roger's Connection, is that these deep lessons begin to be learned spontaneously and joyfully, as different designs are created and changed. Most people tend to find that they already have a natural knack for it, and find that building with Roger's Connection is a natural and satisfying experience. That's not terribly surprising, given that these design principles are found in the construction of our very bodies, brains, and molecules. How interesting it will be to observe the creations of future designers who as children today, had an opportunity to take these lessons effortlessly to heart in this new way.
What I have begun to describe above is really just the tip of a very large and fascinating iceberg. The name of the iceberg is Synergetics! As it turns out, the simple little triangle is really a doorway that opens worlds of understanding about everything ranging from the design of the universe, to solving problems like pollution and food shortages that we experience together living in the world. How can so much come from the humble triangle? The quick answer is that it provides a very basic foundation upon which much can unfold.
The preeminent individual who developed much of this work is R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)). Often affectionately called "Bucky" by his admirers, he is best known by many as the inventor of the geodesic dome, but his accomplishments range far beyond this invention alone. It is difficult to classify him, as his interests and accomplishments are so wide-ranging. He was an inventor, mathematician, engineer, architect, lecturer, writer, philosopher, poet, humanitarian, visionary, and explorer of uncharted realms of thought and planetary concerns. His "World Game" (or "World Peace Game") is an attempt to address the problems of meeting the needs of all peoples of the world in a balanced and sustainable way. Among his many writings are "Critical Path", and a two volume set "Synergetics, Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking".
Synergetics was his word for a comprehensive system within which the structure of the universe could be appreciated in the most natural and rational way. He demonstrated that using our usual cubic-based x, y, and z coordinate system to understand the universe gives rise to a very confused point of view, which actually obscures the underlying truth and simplicity of the natural organization and design of the universe. Going beyond simple mathematics however, Synergetics provides a framework within which any structure or system can be appreciated in a deeper and more comprehensive manner.
The term "Design Science" is often found in writings concerning Synergetics. Design Science refers to a coherent methodology for the design of structures, systems, or in fact almost anything. In this context however, it generally refers to the application of Synergetics to Design Science.
If you are interested in pursuing this field more deeply, then there are many resources available to you. Of course there are all of R. Buckminster Fuller's writings. There are also several documentaries that have been made, most recently a very nice film called "Thinking Out Loud" which was produced and directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon. More information on this film can be found here, along with videotape ordering information. In one part of the film it is shown how he began to develop his revolutionary concepts at an early age while in school building geometric structures using toothpicks and partially dried peas - a precursor, and in fact part of the inspiration for, Roger's Connection! Since his vision was poor, he relied upon his sense of touch to build something stable. While the other children, who were used to seeing cubic buildings, built cubic structures, he instead built his first tetrahedron, and related designs. His sense of touch told him that these were the most stable designs. Thus, his visual limitation afforded him the opportunity to develop a completely fresh viewpoint. His teacher was so surprised by his unique designs, that other teachers in the school were called in to witness the remarkable creations.
In addition to books and films, there is also a wealth of Synergetics and Design Science information on the Internet, in the form of web pages, newsgroups, and by joining (free) special mailing lists. Many other people have now continued to carry the Synergetics torch that was originally lit by Bucky, and have continued to develop and expand the work that he began. Much of this work is available through web pages that organizations and individuals have published. For a list of links to many of these sites, follow the link below.
We encourage you to explore the many Synergetics and Design Science websites by entering these terms into the Internet search engines such as google. Enjoy your explorations!