**GORDIAN UNKNOTS**

(ABSTRACT of a talk at the IMACS World Congress)

Piotr Pieranski, S. Przybyl and Andrzej Stasiak

Session nr.: 152

Paper nr.: 11

What, from the point of view of the knot theory,
was the Gordian Knot? Was it a closed or open knot?

As the legend says, nobody was able to untie
it. Untie? As we know, any open knot can be untied – the algorithm to untie
an open knot is known, one may lack patience, not skill, to untie any knot.
On the other hand, had the Gordian Knot been a closed knot, no one would
have chance to untie it, no matter what type of a knot it had been.

As we know well, even the trefoil knot cannot be transformed into the trivial knot without cutting the rope. It could not be so simple. Most probably the problem of the Gordian Knot was totally different.

As one of us (A.S.) suggested, it could have been
the problem not of untying but **disentangling** a knot.

The simplest problem one can pose here is: **are
there such a entangled conformations of the unknot tied on a finite piece
of rope, which cannot be disentangled to the ground state torus conformation?**

This is a non-trivial problem. A firm answer to the question is not easy to find. As the numerical simulations we performed indicate, the answer is positive: there exist conformations of a the unknot, entangled in such a manner, that they cannot be disentangled to the torus conformation. We present an interesting, most probably simplest example.

Have a look at the Kusner's and Sullivan's
"*Moebius-invariant knot energies*". (Chapter 17 of ** The ideal
knots**, eds. A. Stasiak, V. Katritch and L.H. Kauffman, World Scientific,
Singapore 1998.) At Figure 6 you will find there a picture of an entangled
conformation of the unknot. It was proposed by Freedman, He and Wang. The
conformation looks nasty, but as Kusner and Sullivan demonstrated, it can
be disentangled by a program looking for the minimum of the Moebius energy
of the knot.

"Is SONO able to disentangle it?" - asked Andrzej Stasiak. "I bet a bottle of wine, NOT!" - he added.

To find out who won the bottle, have a look at
this short movie (1.2 Mb).

If you want to see its larger, better quality
version click here. But be patient - the
GIF file is rather large: 6 Mb.

As we have demonstrated, a slightly more complex version of the Freedman's conformation leads to a tight conformation which proves to be Gordian.

SONO is not able to disentangle it.

We think, nobody is able to disentangle it without
cutting the rope.

A formal proof does not exist.

Swiat
Nauki (in Polish)

Pour
la Science

Tony Phillips*, The Gordian Unknot*, American
Mathematical Society

Keith Devlin, *Untying the Gordian Knot*,
The
Mathematical Association of America

Keith Devlin, *Unravelling the myth, *The
Guardian

Mike Martin, *Legendary knot finally untied*,
UPI Science
News