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Monday, 8 October 2012


The shape (Old English: gesceap, created thing) of an object located in some space is a geometrical description of the part of that space occupied by the object, as determined by its external boundary – abstracting from location and orientation in space, size, and other properties such as colour, content, and material composition.
Mathematician and statistician David George Kendall writes:[1]
In this paper ‘shape’ is used in the vulgar sense, and means what one would normally expect it to mean. [...] We here define ‘shape’ informally as ‘all the geometrical information that remains when location, scale[2] and rotational effects are filtered out from an object.’
Simple shapes can be described by basic geometry objects such as a set of two or more points, a line, a curve, a plane, a plane figure (e.g. square or circle), or a solid figure (e.g. cube or sphere). Most shapes occurring in the physical world are complex. Some, such as plant structures and coastlines, may be so arbitrary as to defy traditional mathematical description – in which case they may be analyzed by differential geometry, or as fractals.
In geometry, two subsets of a Euclidean space have the same shape if one can be transformed to the other by a combination of translations, rotations (together also called rigid transformations), and uniform scalings. In other words, the shape of a set of points is all the geometrical information that is invariant to translations, rotations, and size changes. Having the same shape is an equivalence relation, and accordingly a precise mathematical definition of the notion of shape can be given as being an equivalence class of subsets of a Euclidean space having the same shape.
Shapes of physical objects are equal if the subsets of space these objects occupy satisfy the definition above. In particular, the shape does not depend on the size and placement in space of the object. For instance, a "p" and a "d" have the same shape, as they can be perfectly superimposed if the "p" is translated to the right by a given distance, rotated upside down and magnified by a given factor (see Procrustes superimposition for details). However, a mirror image could be called a different shape. For instance, a "b" and a "d" have a different shape, at least when they are constrained to move within a two-dimensional space like the page on which they are written. Even though they have the same size, there's no way to perfectly superimpose them by traslating and rotating them along the page. Similarly, within a three-dimensional space, a right hand and a left hand have a different shape, even if they are the mirror images of each other. Shapes may change if the object is scaled non uniformly. For example, a sphere becomes an ellipsoid when scaled differently in the vertical and horizontal directions. In other words, preserving axes of symmetry (if they exist) is important for preserving shapes. Also, shape is determined by only the outer boundary of an object. For example, a solid ice cube and a second ice cube containing an inner cavity (air bubble) have the same shape.[citation needed]
Objects that can be transformed into each other by rigid transformations and mirroring are congruent. An object is therefore congruent to its mirror image (even if it is not symmetric), but not to a scaled version. Objects that have the same shape or one has the same shape as the other's mirror image (or both if they are themselves symmetric) are called geometrically similar. Thus congruent objects are always geometrically similar, but geometrical similarity additionally allows uniform scaling.


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