How the Superegg Changed the World

Illustration for article titled How the Superegg Changed the World

Most likely, you've already seen the Superegg before. It's a shape that came into vogue in the 1960s, and has been showing up ever since. It's an 'egg' that has the ability to stand stable on either end, and it turns out to have many uses.


Art and science got together and decided to go mod in 1965. Piet Hein, an inventor, poet, and designer, stumbled across the superellipse and decided to make it 3D. This was the end of a long process, which started with an x and y axis on a piece of paper.

Mathematicians figured out pretty early that if someone wanted to define an ellipse on a piece of paper, they had to define it like this: |x/a|^2 + |y/b|^2 = 1

For every x coordinate that works in the equation, the formula will spit out a y coordinate. Plot them out and you'll get a nice rounded oval-looking thing that is a bit like a chicken egg.

It looks nice, but if you balance it up one of of its points, it'll flop over. That's what happens if you square the two first terms in the equation. If you take them to the power of 2.5, the curves get a little squarer, and you get the superellipse.


Piet Hein took that ellipse and rotated it around the x axis, creating a shape that could stand one what the world would perceive to be its 'points'. The curve on those points, if you look at them, is shallow. There's no surprise that it will support the structure, but the world went nuts for the Superegg. It has been used as candlestick holders and executive toys and kids toys and ice cubes to put in drinks and gigantic works of art outside palaces. It even got an engineering use. Stockholm was looking into building roundabouts, and found circles to severe, ovals too dangerous. Superellipses, though, allowed drivers to navigate easily and had an aesthetic appeal. Anyone driving in Stockholm has rounded the curves of a superellipse.

Top Image: Unversalmuseum.

Via Egg Curves and SOMA History.




Hmpf! More Blefescuian bigender propaganda.