In geometry, a figure is chiral (and said to have chirality) if it is not identical to its mirror image, or more particularly if it cannot be mapped to its mirror image by rotations and translations alone. A chiral object and its mirror image are said to be enantiomorphs. The word chirality is derived from the Greek χειρ (cheir), the hand, the most familiar chiral object; the word enantiomorph stems from the Greek εναντιος (enantios) 'opposite' and μορφη (morphe) 'form'. A non-chiral figure is called achiral or amphichiral.
The helix (and by extension a spun string, a screw, a propeller, etc.) and Möbius strip are chiral three-dimensional objects. The J, L, S and Z-shaped tetrominoes of the popular video game Tetris also exhibit chirality, but only in a two-dimensional space.
Many other familiar objects exhibit the same chiral symmetry of the human body: gloves, glasses, shoes, legs on a pair of pants, etc. A similar notion of chirality is considered in knot theory, as explained below.
Some chiral three-dimensional objects, such as the helix, can be assigned a right or left handedness, according to the right-hand rule.
Chirality and symmetry group
A figure is achiral if and only if its symmetry group contains at least one orientation-reversing isometry. (In Euclidean geometry any isometry can be written as with an orthogonal matrix and a vector . The determinant of is either 1 or -1 then. If it is -1 the isometry is orientation-reversing, otherwise it is orientation-preserving.)
Chirality in three dimensions
In three dimensions, every figure which possesses a plane of symmetry or a center of symmetry is achiral. (A plane of symmetry of a figure is a plane , such that is invariant under the mapping , when is chosen to be the --plane of the coordinate system. A center of symmetry of a figure is a point , such that is invariant under the mapping , when is chosen to be the origin of the coordinate system.) Note, however, that there are achiral figures lacking both plane and center of symmetry. An example is the figure
which is invariant under the orientation reversing isometry and thus achiral, but it has neither plane nor center of symmetry. The figure
also is achiral as the origin is a center of symmetry, but it lacks a plane of symmetry.
Note also that achiral figures can have a center axis.
Chirality in two dimensions
In two dimensions, every figure which possesses an axis of symmetry is achiral, and it can be shown that every bounded achiral figure must have an axis of symmetry. (An axis of symmetry of a figure is a line , such that is invariant under the mapping , when is chosen to be the -axis of the coordinate system.) Consider the following pattern:
> > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >
This figure is chiral, as it is not identical to its mirror image from either axis:
> > > > > > > > > > or < < < < < < < < < < > > > > > > > > > > < < < < < < < < < <
But if one prolongs the pattern in both directions to infinity, one receives an (unbounded) achiral figure which has no axis of symmetry. Its symmetry group is a frieze group generated by a single glide reflection.
A knot is called achiral if it can be continuously deformed into its mirror image, otherwise it is called chiral. For example the unknot and the figure-eight knot are achiral, whereas the trefoil knot is chiral.
- The Mathematical Theory of Chirality by Michel Petitjean
- Chiral Polyhedra by Eric W. Weisstein, The Wolfram Demonstrations Project.