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Soddy's
formula is another example of giving the credit to the wrong person. The formula
is about the relationship of the radii of four mutually tangent
circles. The formula is sometimes called the "Kissing Circles Theorem". If
four circles are all tangent to each other, then they must intersect at six
distinct points. In 1643 Rene Descartes sent a letter to Princess
Elisabeth of Bohemia in which he showed that the four radii, r_{1},
r_{2}, r_{3}, r_{4}, must be such that . The
figure shows four circles all externally tangent to each other. The figure could
also be drawn with three tangent circles all inside, and tangent to, a fourth
circle. The bend of this externally tangent circle is given a negative value,
and thus the same equation provides its radius also. The equation can be written
much more easily, and usually is, using a notation of "bend". For
each value let the "bend" equal the reciprocal of the radius, then
1/r_{1} = b_{1}. With this notation the formula can be
written as .

**Descartes Circle Theorem** was
rediscovered in 1842 by an amateur English Mathematician named Phillip
Beecroft. Beecroft also observed that there exist four other circles
that would each be mutually tangent at the same four points. These circles
would have tangents perpendicular to the original circles tangents at each point
of intersection.

In 1936 Sir Fredrick Soddy rediscovered
the theorem again. Soddy may also be known to students of Science for
receiving the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1921 for the discovery of the decay
sequences of radioactive isotopes. According to Oliver Sacks' wonderful book, __Uncle Tungsten__, Soddy also created the term **"isotope"** and was the first to use the term "chain reaction". In a strange "chain reaction" of ideas, Soddy played a part in the US developing an atomic bomb. Soddy's book, __The Interpretation of Radium__, inspired H G Wells to write __The World Set Free__ in 1914, and he dedicated the novel to Soddy's book. Twenty years later, Wells' book set Leo Szilard to thinking about the possibility of Chain reactions, and how they might be used to create a bomb, leading to his getting a British patent on the idea in 1936. A few years later Szilard encouraged his friend, Albert Einstein, to write a letter to President Roosevelt about the potential for an atomic bomb. The prize-winning science-fiction writer, Frederik Pohl, talks about Szilard's epiphany in __Chasing Science__ (pg 25),

".. we know the exact spot where Leo Szilard got the idea that led to the atomic bomb. There isn't even a plaque to mark it, but it happened in 1938, while he was waiting for a traffic light to change on London's Southampton Row. Szilard had been remembering H. G. Well's old science-fiction novel about atomic power,The World Set Freeand had been reading about the nuclear-fission experiment of Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner, and the lightbulb went on over his head."

Perhaps Soddy's name is appropriate for the formula if only for the unique way he presented his discovery. He presented it in the form of a poem which is presented below.

The Kiss Precise

by Frederick SoddyFor pairs of lips to kiss maybe

Involves no trigonometry.

'Tis not so when four circles kiss

Each one the other three.

To bring this off the four must be

As three in one or one in three.

If one in three, beyond a doubt

Each gets three kisses from without.

If three in one, then is that one

Thrice kissed internally.

Four circles to the kissing come.

The smaller are the benter.

The bend is just the inverse of

The distance from the center.

Though their intrigue left Euclid dumb

There's now no need for rule of thumb.

Since zero bend's a dead straight line

And concave bends have minus sign,

The sum of the squares of all four bends

Is half the square of their sum.

To spy out spherical affairs

An oscular surveyor

Might find the task laborious,

The sphere is much the gayer,

And now besides the pair of pairs

A fifth sphere in the kissing shares.

Yet, signs and zero as before,

For each to kiss the other four

The square of the sum of all five bends

Is thrice the sum of their squares.

In _Nature_, June 20, 1936

Later another verse was written by Thorold Gosset to describe the even more general case in N dimensions for N+2 hyperspheres of the Nth dimension.

On August 15, 1936, only a few months after Soddy's poem had been published in Nature, Thorold Gosset sent a copy of the poem to Donal Coxeter on the occasion of his wedding in the Round Church in Cambridge. Gossett enclosed in his wedding congratulations, and extension of the poem to the higher dimensions which were Coxeter's special area of study. It would be published in Nature the following year,The Kiss Precise (Generalized) by Thorold Gosset

And let us not confine our cares

To simple circles, planes and spheres,

But rise to hyper flats and bends

Where kissing multiple appears,

In n-ic space the kissing pairs

Are hyperspheres, and Truth declares -

As n + 2 such osculate

Each with an n + 1 fold mate

The square of the sum of all the bends

Is n times the sum of their squares.

In _Nature_ January 9, 1937.Fred Lunnon sent me a kind note correcting a typing oversight, and adding that

"The original result generalises nicely to curved n-space with curvature v [e.g. v^2 = +1 for elliptic space, -1 for hyperbolic] in the formFred admits he wasn't the first to prove this, but did manage to replicate it on his own (which impresses the heck out of me)... but THEN....... wait for it.... He wrote another poem verse to accompany this extension to higher dimensions...

(\sum_i x_i)^2 - n \sum_i x_i^2 = 2n v^2

where x_i denote the curvatures of n+2 mutually tangent spheres. Example: n = 2, v = 0, x = [-1,2,2,3] is one solution, corresponding to a unit circle in the plane enclosing circles of radii 1/2,1/2.1/3.

See Ivars Petersen "Circle Game" in Science News (2001) \bf 159 (16) p.254"The Kiss Precise(Further Generalized)by Fred Lunnon

How frightfully pedestrian

My predecessors were

To pose in space Euclidean

Each fraternising sphere!

Let Gauss' k squared be positive

When space becomes elliptic,

And conversely turn negative

For spaces hyperbolic:

Squared sum of bends is sum times n

Of twice k squared plus squares of bends.