Plato's cube and the natural geometry of fragmentation

G Domokos and DJ Jerolmack and F Kun and J Torok, PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 117, 18178-18185 (2020).

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2001037117

Plato envisioned Earth's building blocks as cubes, a shape rarely found in nature. The solar system is littered, however, with distorted polyhedra-shards of rock and ice produced by ubiquitous fragmentation. We apply the theory of convex mosaics to show that the average geometry of natural two-dimensional (2D) fragments, from mud cracks to Earth's tectonic plates, has two attractors: "Platonic" quadrangles and "Voronoi" hexagons. In three dimensions (3D), the Platonic attractor is dominant: Remarkably, the average shape of natural rock fragments is cuboid. When viewed through the lens of convex mosaics, natural fragments are indeed geometric shadows of Plato's forms. Simulations show that generic binary breakup drives all mosaics toward the Platonic attractor, explaining the ubiquity of cuboid averages. Deviations from binary fracture produce more exotic patterns that are genetically linked to the formative stress field. We compute the universal pattern generator establishing this link, for 2D and 3D fragmentation.

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