Excerpt of 2017 article from Dan Romik:
Read the full article in the Department's 2017 Newsletter
Mathematicians have always looked to the physical world to find inspiration for new mathematics; indeed, some beautiful theoretical developments have emerged from our attempts to understand physical phenomena such as fluid flow, planetary motion, electromagnetism, chemical reactions, and... furniture moving??!
Yes, furniture-moving. It is not known what led the Austrian-Canadian mathematician Leo Moser to pose the mathematical question that became known as the moving sofa problem — likely it had to do with a house-moving experience from his student days — but the question, which Moser published in the problems section of the journal SIAM Review in 1966, has fascinated professional and amateur mathematicians alike in the time since its publication, spurred the creation of some intriguing new research, and remains unsolved today.
The question is deceptively simple to state. I’ll quote it in Moser’s original words: “What is the largest area region that can be moved through a ‘hallway’ of width one?” The hallway in question has the shape of the letter L, with two arms, each of width one, meeting at a right angle.