Let me tell you about my favourite shape (it’s normal to have a favourite shape okay), hexagons.
Along with squares and equilateral triangles, regular hexagons fit together so that there is no wasted space. Of the three, the hexagon has the smallest perimeter compared to its area. Which means that, for example in honeycomb, making hexagons requires less work and less wax than any other shape, with no gaps between them. They pop up in other places too:
HONEYCOMB: Bees first make circular cells by burrowing into the wax, and use their body heat to melt it slightly. The surface tension then pulls the lines of wax into a series of three-point junctions, making a neat series of hexagons. This is an alternative to the original theory that bees are clever enough to make them deliberately. (x)
BUBBLES: When three or more soap bubbles meet, they squash together and sort themselves so that only three bubble walls meet at any point. Whatever the difference in size of the bubbles, the angle between the walls is always 120 degrees, even in foam. The result in large numbers is a collection of mostly hexagons. (x)
SNOWFLAKES: Hexagonal snowflakes aren’t the only kind formed. Six-sided ones are generally created in high clouds, with other shapes such as needles or columns formed lower down. Colder temperatures tend to make the prettier “lacy” shapes. It’s the alignment of water molecules which causes the hexagonal shape: they arrange themselves so that each oxygen atom lines up with two hydrogen atoms on other water molecules. This makes an intricate and symmetrical shape as they freeze. The large gaps between molecules is also the reason why water expands on freezing, and why ice floats. (x)
GIANT’S CAUSEWAY: These stone hexagonal pillars in Northern Ireland were formed millions of years ago by the molten basalt of volcanic lava cooling quickly (or, alternatively, by the giant Finn MacCool wanting to travel to Scotland without getting his feet wet). The cooling caused contraction and cracks in the rock, splitting it into pillars as well as fracturing horizontally. The same effect and pattern can be seen in drying mud or paint. (x)
BUCKYBALL: Hexagons by themselves create a flat tessellation, but by adding pentagons a curved surface or sphere can be formed. Technically called a truncated icosahedron, this spherical shape is better known as the shape of a soccer ball, as well as the glass domes common to botanical gardens and the arrangement of carbon atoms in the buckminsterfullerene molecule. The molecule’s snappy name is a homage to Buckminster Fuller, due to his dome designs. In nature, an arrangement of hexagons and pentagons forms the curve of a tortoise’s shell. (x)
STORM ON SATURN: Near Saturn’s north pole is a storm which is six-sided rather than circular, and has remained fixed with the planet’s rotation for at least 26 years. Due to Saturn’s incredibly thick atmosphere, the speed of the planet’s rotation remains unknown, but this strangely geometric weather may provide some necessary data. In the meantime, scientists have described it as “cool”. I’m a scientist. It counts. (x)