I came across this NPR article by Robert Krulwich, called “What Is It About Bees And Hexagons?,” and I got totally sucked in to the comment thread. The more I read, the cooler it seemed, and the more I wanted to build these things and teach my kids about them. Each cell starts out looking something like half of a hotdog – cylindrical with a hemispherical bottom. The bees build these with amazing regularity of spacing, working out from one and surrounding it with others, like in this image.
The heat of their bodies and the heat of the sun cause the wax to deform, and the six points of tangency around each circle become the six sides of the hexagonal cells that we recognize.
As cool as that is, the 3D is even cooler. As a demonstration of what happens, I tried to think like a 14-year-old and came up with this! Gross, but convincing. Yup, vacuum-packed hotdog halves -yum!
The geometric shape that models this is a hexagonal prism with a rhombic pyramidal base. I made a net for it and have started to build a honeycomb.
What’s really cool is that the bees build the layers back to back, staggered to fit into each other.
I think this would make an awesome lesson – or geeky craft project!