Out of the Box

One of many ways to construct triply periodic minimal surfaces is via conjugate surfaces. You start with a polygon in space, solve the Plateau problem, construct the conjugate surface. Instead of straight edges, this conjugate surface piece will allow extension by reflecting across its boundary edges, and with a fair amount of luck, you obtain a nice triply periodic surface. There are two disadvantages of the Plateau method: You are numerically limited to minimizing Plateau solutions, and the whole approach gives little theoretical insight. Here is a variation of this approach:

We start with a minimal polygon inside a box with all edges perpendicular to the faces of the box. Reflections at the faces will produce 8 copies, which constitute a translational fundamental piece of a triply periodic surface. If we look at the boundary of the polygon in the vertical faces, we note that at the corners the Gauss map will be vertical. We encode this in a sequence of + and – signs. For the left boundary component in the example, we have two points with normal pointing (say) up, encoded by +. In the second component we first point down at the upper point, and then down at the lower point, encoded by +-. Both sequences give the symbol (++|+-).

The same information is also contained in the shaded rectangle above, with the red dots labeled a and b corresponding to the corners in the left boundary edge, and c and corresponding to those in the right edge. The entire rectangle then represents the torus quotient of the surface under the 180º rotation about the vertical axis. The vertices are the zeroes and poles of the Gauss map.

Together with the additional reflectional symmetries at the horizontal box faces (the vertical green lines in the rectangle), this information determines the Gauss map. The height differential on the quotient torus is just dz, so we have the entire Weierstrass representation of the surface, except that we do not know the values of the parameters a,b,c,d and τ.

A linear combination of the parameters a,b,c,d determines how the Gauss map rotates in horizontal symmetry planes. For 8-gons as above, one usually is then left with a 2-dimensional period problem, resulting in a 2-dimensional family of examples. This approach is useful for three reasons: One can use the Enneper-Weierstrass representation for theoretical and numerical purposes, investigate limits easily, and extend the method by forsaking the horizontal symmetries, as we will see at a later point.

This page shows examples for these seven types, you can find more under the individual surface pages, listed under the genus 5 box types section in the triply periodic minimal surfaces page.