June 2014
Billie Silvey
Honeycomb
When I was a child, one of my great aunts used
to keep a punchbowl in the center of her big,
round dining table.  It was filled with honey, with
a big chunk of
comb floating in it.  We’d have
toast or biscuits with butter and honey when we
went to see her.  Mother didn't think it was
hygenic, but I loved it.

When you looked at the honeycomb, it was
obvious that every cell was a
hexagon--a perfect
hexagon with six sides of equal length.  

When you look at bees building a honeycomb,
you'll see that all of them are  working--
collectively, simultaneously and constantly.  

Using perfect hexagons, every cell fits tightly
with every other cell.  All the bees can pitch in.  
It's an easy jigsaw puzzle in which all the pieces

More than 2,000 years ago, a Roman soldier
and scholar, Marcus Terentius
Varro,
speculated that a honeycomb built of hexagons
could hold more honey or required less
building wax.       
According to physicist Alan Lightman, "It is a
mathematical truth that there are only three
geometic figures with equal sides that can fit
together on a flat surface without leaving
gaps: equilateral triangles, squares and
hexagons."

A structure built of hexagons is more
compact, and thus requires less wax.  A bee
must consume about eight ounces of honey
to produce an ounce of wax, In 1999, Thomas
Hales, a mathematician at Princeton
University, produced proof that Varro's theory
was true.

As Charles
Darwin once wrote, the
honeycomb is "absolutely perfect in
economizing labor and wax."