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To Solve Social Distancing Use Geometry

Of all the challenges facing educators, restauranteurs, and business owners in trying to reopen during a global pandemic, one of them requires knowledge in a topic that many of us had to embrace during high school: geometry.

High school math teacher and guest columnist for Quanta Magazine, Patrick Honner explains:

Determining how to safely reopen buildings and public spaces under social distancing is in part an exercise in geometry: If each person must keep six feet away from everyone else, then figuring out how many people can sit in a classroom or a dining room is a question about packing non-overlapping circles into floor plans.

Honner notes:

If your job involves packing oranges in a box or safely seating students under social distancing, the size and shape of your container is a crucial component of the problem. But for most mathematicians, the theory of sphere packing is about filling all of space. In two dimensions, this means covering the plane with same-size circles that don’t overlap.

In his detailed mathematical breakdown, Honner compares various strategies in different scenarios, including square packing, hexagonal packing, and other geometric variations. This geometric approach underscores an important truth: The math lessons we learn as youngsters can pay dividends later on.

Possible Preaching Angle:

Sometimes the lessons God allows us to learn as young people pop up later in life with unexpected applications. Maybe the thing that you're struggling with now might be the very thing you need in the future to be a blessing to your community.


Patrick Honner, “The Math of Social Distancing Is a Lesson in Geometry” Quanta Magazine (7-13-20)

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