By the third century BC, Ancient Greek mathematicians had begun studying and writing about the seemingly useless conic sections. First studied by the pupils of Plato, it was eventually declared that conic sections (ellipse, parabola, circle, and hyperbola) could be obtained by slicing a right circular cone at different angles. Eventually, through the course of history, scientists and philosophers found applications for the Conics in physics and astronomy For example, the elliptical travel of the planets was pointed out by the Renaissance scientist Johannes Kepler in the 16005.
Countless modern applications of these shapes can be documented today, two of which include wave technology and architecture. In architecture, perhaps the most apparent proof of conics is in the natural “Whispering Galleries,” When you are in an elliptically shaped room, you can stand at one focus and hear clearly what someone is saying, even at a quiet voice level, across the room at the other focus. An example of this phenomenon is situated in the St, Paul’s Cathedral in London.
One could easily use this concept as a design tool when designing performance halls or press conference rooms so that hearing what is being done in the front is easily done by people, even people located further in the back. In addition to acoustics, Conics are also used for aesthetics, such as the Tycho Brahe Auditorium in Copenhagen where the cylindrical building has been “sliced,” so to speak, on an angle so that an ellipse is revealed. Light and other waves also behave in a special way when Conics are used.
If light originates from one focus on an ellipse, it will be reflected without exception to the other focus. This phenomenon is used in lithotripsy, which treats kidney stones. The patient is immersed in an elliptical water tank, with the kidney stone situated at one focus, Shock waves originating at the other focus destroy the kidney stone. On a parabolic surface, radio and light waves can be collected, The beams come to the parabolic surface and are brought into focus at the focal point.
These contraptions (dish antennas) are used often to collect these signals when they come from outer space. Although the Ancient Greeks had very little knowledge of the naturally occurring conic phenomena beyond what they saw with their own eyes, scientists over the thousands of years since conic sections were identified have made great strides in the scientific and technological fields. Surprisingly, it all comes back to these basic shapes that we all study in math class, Countless numbers of applications of these concepts exist, and countless more are to be discovered in the future, where they will solve many problems that we have in modern society.