Academic Commons

Theses Doctoral

Tetrahedra and Their Nets: Mathematical and Pedagogical Implications

Mussa, Derege

If one has three sticks (lengths), when can you make a triangle with the sticks? As long as any two of the lengths sum to a value strictly larger than the third length one can make a triangle. Perhaps surprisingly, if one is given 6 sticks (lengths) there is no simple way of telling if one can build a tetrahedron with the sticks. In fact, even though one can make a triangle with any triple of three lengths selected from the six, one still may not be able to build a tetrahedron. At the other extreme, if one can make a tetrahedron with the six lengths, there may be as many 30 different (incongruent) tetrahedra with the six lengths.
Although tetrahedra have been studied in many cultures (Greece, India, China, etc.) Over thousands of years, there are surprisingly many simple questions about them that still have not been answered. This thesis answers some new questions about tetrahedra, as well raising many more new questions for researchers, teachers, and students. It also shows in an appendix how tetrahedra can be used to illustrate ideas about arithmetic, algebra, number theory, geometry, and combinatorics that appear in the Common Cores State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS -M). In particular it addresses representing three-dimensional polyhedra in the plane. Specific topics addressed are a new classification system for tetrahedra based on partitions of an integer n, existence of tetrahedra with different edge lengths, unfolding tetrahedra by cutting edges of tetrahedra, and other combinatorial aspects of tetrahedra.


  • thumnail for Mussa_columbia_0054D_11235.pdf Mussa_columbia_0054D_11235.pdf binary/octet-stream 2.73 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Vogeli, Bruce
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 30, 2013