The distance from self-intersection of a (smooth and either closed or infinite) curve q in three dimensions can be characterised via the global radius of curvature at q(s), which is defined as the smallest possible radius amongst all circles passing through the given point and any two other points on the curve. The minimum value of the global radius of curvature along the curve gives a convenient measure of curve thickness or normal injectivity radius. Given the utility of the construction inherent to global curvature, it is natural to consider variants defined in related ways. The first part of the thesis considers all possible circular and spherical distance functions and the associated, single argument, global radius of curvature functions that are constructed by minimisation over all but one argument. It is shown that among all possible global radius of curvature functions there are only five independent ones. And amongst these five there are two particularly useful ones for characterising thickness of a curve. We investigate the geometry of how these two functions, ρpt and ρtp, can be achieved. Properties and interrelations of the divers global radius of curvature functions are illustrated with the simple examples of ellipses and helices. It is known that any Lipschitz continuous curve with positive thickness actually has C1,1-regularity. Accordingly, C1,1 is the natural space in which to carry out computations involving self-avoiding curves. The second part of the thesis develops the mathematical theory of biarcs, which are a geometrically elegant way of discretizing C1,1 space curves. A biarc is a pair of circular arcs joined in a C1 fashion according to certain matching rules. We establish a self-contained theory of the geometry of biarc interpolation of point-tangent data sampled from an underlying base curve, and demonstrate that such biarc curves have attractive convergence properties in both a pointwise and function-space sense, e.g. the two arcs of the biarc interpolating a coalescent point-tangent data pair on a C2-curve approach the osculating circle of the curve at the limit of the data points, and for a C1,1-base curve and a sequence of (possibly non-uniform) meshes, the interpolating biarc curves approach the base curve in the C1-norm. For smoother base curves, stronger convergence can be obtained, e.g. interpolating biarc curves approach a C2 base curve in the C1,1-norm. The third part of the thesis concerns the practical utility of biarcs in computation. It is shown that both the global radius of curvature function ρpt and thickness can be evaluated efficiently (and to an arbitrarily small, prescribed precision) on biarc curves. Moreover, both the notion of a contact set, i.e. the set of points realising thickness, and an approximate contact set can be defined rigorously. The theory is then illustrated with an application to the computation of ideal shapes of knots. Informally ideal knot shapes can be described as the configuration allowing a given knot to be tied with the shortest possible piece of rope of prescribed thickness. The biarc discretization is combined with a simulated annealing code to obtain approximate ideal shapes. These shapes provide rigorous upper bounds for rope length of ideal knots. The approximate contact set and the function ρpt evaluated on the computed shapes allow us to assess closeness of the computations to ideality. The high accuracy of the computations reveal various, previously unrecognized, features of ideal knot shapes.

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Record created 2005-03-16, last modified 2018-03-17