The Owl and Its Parabolic Face

Dr. Hakan Oztunc
7 min readSep 15, 2021

Owls are known to be a symbol of wisdom throughout history in ancient Greece, Asia, and America. They are also unquestionably mysterious predators. This mystery derives from the math they seem to be utilized during the hunt: owls can use the parabolic system to spot their prey.

This system is “parabolic facial formation,” which is a unique feature of owls, and it describes the design of their faces by way of which they adjust to incoming sounds and catches their prey even in the darkest nights. This is the same formation in the structures of radio telescopes by which new planets are discovered in the depths of space. From hunting stars in outer space to how owls hunt at night, parabolas in mathematics guide us to understand some of the marvels in the universe.

Parabolas can be seen frequently in both natural as well as in human-made monuments. A parabola is a stretched U-shaped geometric form that can be made by cross-sectioning a cone. Menaechmus (380–320 BC), a Greek mathematician and friend of Plato, is credited with discovering these conic sections. Additionally, he is credited with finding out that the ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola are sections of a cone produced by the intersection of a plane with the surface of a cone. This credit derives from an epigram of Eratosthenes of Cyrene that refers to cutting the cone “in the triads of Menaechmus.” Parabolic shapes can be seen in the Eiffel Tower, a wrought iron lattice tower in Paris, France, built in 1889. The four legs of the structure were designed by using parabolas. With two of those “legs” side by side, they form one individual parabola, making an upside-down “U” shape. In this specific parabola, the vertex is in the middle arch of the upside-down “U.” It is comfortable to infer that the axis of symmetry runs straight down a point on the x-axis. Without the wonders of parabolas, it could not have been built!

The Eiffel Tower is not alone in its usage of the marvels of parabolas; the famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, has parabolas on each side of its side spans or towers. The Parabola (now Design Museum), a structure in London that was built in 1962, boasts a copper roof with parabolic and hyperbolic lines.

Dolphins leap out of the water in the form of a parabola by making an upside-down “U” shape. One purpose of…

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Dr. Hakan Oztunc

Statistics Professor, Math Lover, Teaching @UOFT. Author of numerous Math Novels. Always looking to make math fun for everyone. MyBook: https://amzn.to/2M5F5Nz