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The shape of a Möbius strip


The Möbius strip, obtained by taking a rectangular strip of plastic or paper, twisting one end through 180, and then joining the ends, is the canonical example of a one-sided surface. Finding its characteristic developable shape has been an open problem ever since its first formulation in refs 1,2. Here we use the invariant variational bicomplex formalism to derive the first equilibrium equations for a wide developable strip undergoing large deformations, thereby giving the first non-trivial demonstration of the potential of this approach. We then formulate the boundary-value problem for the Möbius strip and solve it numerically. Solutions for increasing width show the formation of creases bounding nearly flat triangular regions, a feature also familiar from fabric draping3 and paper crumpling4,5. This could give new insight into energy localization phenomena in unstretchable sheets6, which might help to predict points of onset of tearing. It could also aid our understanding of the relationship between geometry and physical properties of nano- and microscopic Möbius strip structures7,8,9.

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Figure 1: Photo of a paper Möbius strip of aspect ratio 2π.
Figure 2: Computed Möbius strips.
Figure 3: Curvature and torsion of a Möbius strip.
Figure 4: Tearing a piece of paper.


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This work was supported by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council under grant number GR/T22926/01.

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Correspondence to G. H. M. van der Heijden.

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Starostin, E., van der Heijden, G. The shape of a Möbius strip. Nature Mater 6, 563–567 (2007).

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