My new toy: the Gömböc

I'm not really one for collecting things. The fact that I move around a lot twinned with the pathetic size of British homes, doesn't square well with building up much of anything. I finally dumped all my CDs last summer; I give away my books when I'm done with them. Plus, I always felt that collecting things was for people with more money than they knew what to do with.

Nevertheless, my current bedroom is as anonymous as a hotel room, and so I thought I should do what every self-repecting gentleman scholar did in times gone by: build myself a cabinet of curiosities. As the name suggests, this is a collection of weird and wonderful oddities, of a scientific bent.

I already own a simple radiometer and a rather crude armillary sphere, so I was already on my way. But there's a very unusual object that few people have these days: a Gömböc!


A gomboc (to use its web-friendly spelling) is a mathematical puzzle made real. Wikipedia sums it as:

a convex three-dimensional homogeneous body which, when resting on a flat surface, has just one stable and one unstable point of equilibrium. Its existence was conjectured by Russian mathematician Vladimir Arnold in 1995 and proven in 2006 by Hungarian scientists Gábor Domokos and Péter Várkonyi.

What does that mean? Like the famous Weebles, a gomboc will always return to the same position, righting itself when turned over. Unlike a weeble though, the gomboc is not weighted, and relies upon its shape to achieve self-righting. There are many different solutions to the mathematical puzzle, giving rise to many different shapes of gomboc, but all are very nearly (mathematically) spherical and must be machined to tolereances of up to a hundredth of a millimetre. You can buy them here from the very man who solved the puzzle of their existence. Domokos is no fool, so he marketed gombocs as luxury items for high-end clients. But the price has fallen in recent years, and a line of smaller mini-gombocs released to capture the lower market. So I finally bought one. It arrived today!


Even though it's only a "mini-gomboc", it's a lot bigger than I expected.


It's very pretty, very heavy, and I almost understand the math behind it. Which makes it a great addition to a cabinet of curiosities! All of which is no good without some video footage - until I get mine up you'll have to suffice with this promo video.

Finally, just in case you though such a thing was useless: some tortoises have evolved shells in the shape of gombocs to ensure they get back onto their feet if rolled over. Cool! Perhaps I'll paint little tortoise legs onto mine, so long as the coat of paint is less than 0.01mm thick.

So what's next? Any suggestions for cool things to add to my growing collection?

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That is very cool.

I'm also one for not keep much "stuff" especially books (which you can get again/ from the library) or CDs (which you can store on computers). My recent move with same flat-mates was quite funny as they are both EXTREME hoarders... Still, there is something about stuff to make your home feel, well a little less hotel like.

I have this sitting on my bookshelf, which I guess fulfills similar purpose to gömböc.

I am reminded - remotely - of the old British thruppeny pieces, newer pounds, and Wankel engines.

My desk sports a Klein bottle sitting atop a internally etched crystal representation of our surrounding 100 parsecs. Each contains the other. Cliff Stoll makes the Klein bottles (sells them out of kleinbottle dot com) and Bathsheba makes wonderful mathematically inspired 3D sculptures using either metallic deposition printers or laser etching inside crystal glass cubes (bathsheba dot com). She will also consider making custom cubes if you have the algorithms for placing the dots in the space. My next purchase from her will be the Calabi Yau Manifold.

Cliff should be a familiar name to most of us - enjoy his TED talks (just search for Stoll on ted dot com). Bathsheba is more retiring but I think has a well-deserved reputation for her visualizations. (Disclosure: I make nothing from promoting their work, just admire it and think mentioning it appropriate here and now).

By Gray Gaffer (not verified) on 23 Mar 2010 #permalink

They had some of these on the BBC comedy panel/quiz show QI, and Gabor Domokos was invited to be in the audience to help explain it. They also mentioned the fine tolerances it has to be made to, and the existence of tortoises with similarly-shaped shells.

You might take a look at Always a fun place.