Alan Schoen celebrated his 94th birthday earlier this month, so it is only fitting to write a little about his NASA report in my series of blog posts of highly influential papers about the construction of minimal surfaces.

This task is not easy, because there is too much worth discussing, so I decided to split this into multiple posts, beginning today with his simplest surfaces. These are H’-T, H”-R, S’-S”, and T’-R’. I add to these P and H, found much earlier by Hermann Amandus Schwarz, because these six surfaces share enough properties so that a single piece of code can be used to compute all of them.

They all have a reflectional fundamental cell consisting of a right prism over a triangle, which must be of one of the types (3,3,3), (2,4,4), or (2,3,6), the numbers representing the triangle angles as fractions of 180º. Below is a piece of the T’-R’ surface in a (6,2,3) prism, and next to it how this prism fits into a translational fundamental piece.

If we remove from the skeleton of the prism the edges that intersect the surface, we obtain the two skeletal graphs of the surface, shown below in extreme wide angle perspective from above. That one of the graph has triangle layers and the other rhombic layers is the reason for Schoen’s naming convention: The letters T and R stand for triangle and rhombus.

The piece in a prism can also be used to effectively parametrize these surfaces. To do this, note that the vertical faces of the prism meet the surfaces in two arcs: One is a segment without corners, the other has two 30º corners where the arc switches from one face of the prism to another. These corners are also the only points with vertical normal. We can therefore conformally parametrize a surface piece in a prism by the shaded rectangle below.

The vertical edges correspond to horizontal symmetry lines, and the horizontal edges to symmetry lines in the vertical prism faces. In this way, the shaded rectangle corresponds to the flat structure of the height differential. The points marked a and -a correspond to the two corners, where the Gauss map as a pole and zero, respectively. The value of a for an (r,s,t)-prism is determined (a consequence of Abel’s theorem) as $a = \frac12\frac{s}{s+t}$.
This has the curious consequence that the height of the corners of the surface piece are determined relative to the height of the prism. For instance, for T’-R’, the value of a is 1/5, meaning that if the prism has top and bottom face at height +1/2 and -1/2, then the two corners are at height +1/5 and -1/5.

The integrals of the Enneper-Weierstrass forms G dh and 1/G dh become Schwarz-Christoffel maps that map the horizontal gray strip to a periodic polygon or freeze pattern. For T’-R’ this looks like

For other surfaces in this group, the angles will change. The Schwarz P-surface corresponds to the (2,4,4) prism, a will be 1/4, and the frieze pattern has an additional symmetry:

The red lines correspond the the horizontal straight lines on the P-surface. We will see in a later post that the same method can be used to generate many more surfaces.

Finally, all the surfaces in today’s group come in a 1-parameter family and have similar limits. The catenoidal neck pattern and the singly periodic Scherk surface arrangement is encoded by the skeletal graphs:

##### Resources

Universal Mathematica Notebook