The delightful geometries of soccer balls

By: Linda B. Glaser,  A&S Communications
Mon, 04/29/2019

A creative “arms race” has raged in recent years, transforming the traditional black pentagons and white hexagons of soccer balls with new graphics and seam patterns. On April 11, mathematical artist David Swart explored the latest soccer ball designs and spherical geometry in the 2019 Math Awareness Month lecture, sponsored by the Department of Mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences. A reception followed the lecture.

“Modern soccer ball designs are in that wonderful intersection between mathematics and art: they allow mathematicians to gain an appreciation for design, and they allow sports fans to learn something about geometry,” said Swart.

Swart’s math art includes the graphic designs on soccer balls, spherical panoramas, and novelty cartographic projections. “My projects involve, more often than not, spherical imagery,” explained Swart.

According to Mary Ann Huntley, director of mathematics outreach and K-12 education activities for the mathematics department, Math Awareness Month was established nationally to increase public understanding of and appreciation for mathematics. Accordingly, each year the Department of Mathematics sponsors a public lecture on topics in mathematics. In 2018, Robert Kleinberg, associate professor of computer science at Cornell, spoke on card games, patterns and computation.

As part of the Math Awareness Month celebrations, the Department of Mathematics also sponsored a t-shirt design contest at Ithaca High School. Students design t-shirts, and the design that wins – as chosen by Ithaca High School math teachers and Cornell’s Department of Mathematics faculty, staff, and graduate students – is made into t-shirts, distributed to students and faculty who participate in mathematics outreach activities. Throughout the year, the department engages in outreach with the local community, and events focus on facilitating teacher development, providing opportunities for students in grades K-12 and promoting mathematics awareness.

Visit the math department outreach site for more information on mathematics events and outreach opportunities.


   Math prof talking about soccer and math