A Problem Shared
Sometimes, we fail to make obvious connections. For example, some of us may have overlooked the similarity between solving Sudoku puzzles and the process of assembling diffraction patterns and electron micrographs in order to identify approximant structures.
Sven Hovmöller and his team had been working for eight years to identify the structures of eight approximant crystals. 'Approximants are related to quasi-crystals, which are ordered atomic structures but with symmetries that we believed to be impossible – for example, 5-fold symmetry,' explained Sven. As if we didn't know that! Two approximants had been identified, but his team was still scratching its collective head over the remaining six structures.
When solving Sudoku one evening with his son Linus, Sven realised his 10-year-old son had quite an aptitude for the puzzle, often correcting his father's mistakes and whizzing ahead. Sven wondered if Linus could apply this talent for pattern recognition to the geometric shapes of quasi-crystals.
Linus accepted the challenge and sat down at the kitchen table with his father. Over the next two days, the structures of four more approximants were identified.
'What we did was to solve a set of puzzles where the pieces were "wheels" that could be connected in different ways,' explained Linus. 'It was pretty much a 50/50 effort,' added his father.
When facing the toughest puzzles, sometimes it helps to share your problems.