never-repeating patterns

The maths behind ‘impossible’ never-repeating patterns

The maths behind ‘impossible’ never-repeating patterns

Remember the graph paper you used at school, the kind that’s covered with tiny squares? It’s the perfect illustration of what mathematicians call a “periodic tiling of space”, with shapes covering an entire area with no overlap or gap. If we moved the whole pattern by the length of a tile (translated it) or rotated it by 90 degrees, we will get the same pattern. That’s because in this case, the whole tiling has the same symmetry as a single tile. But imagine tiling a bathroom with pentagons instead of squares – it’s impossible, because the pentagons won’t fit together without leaving gaps or overlapping one another.