A chalk mural of a fractal was drawn on the ground infront of the R building for Pi Day celebrated at PCC on March 26th 2015. (Michael Osborne/Courier)
A chalk mural of a fractal was drawn on the ground in front of the R building for Pi Day celebrated at PCC on March 26th 2015. (Michael Osborne/Courier)

Pi is not a misspelling of that pastry encrusted, fruit-filled dessert or pizza slice that we know and love. Pi is that mathematical enigma that is the endless stream of numbers indicating the circumference of a circle. It is also the base for the art that makes a fractal.

But this was a special year. According to timeanddate.com, Pi Day in 2015 had a special significance.

“This year, the digits of the date 3/14/15 corresponded to the first 5 digits of pi: 3.1415. In addition, at 9:26:53 am and 9:26:53 pm on March 14, 2015, the date and the time exactly corresponded to the first 10 digits of pi: 3.141592653. Many people called this the Pi Second. This only happens once in a century!”

Normally observed on March 14, the month and day that mirrors the numerical representation of Pi, the PCC Pi Day festival is always scheduled a week following Spring Break.

The festival honored the mathematical constant with booths filled with student posters, graphic work, art, and a large-scale colorfully chalked fractal representation on the Quad grounds.

Sassan Barkeshli, who teaches computer science, was on hand to explain how art, science and math connect and how the work in the festival reflects that.

“The message here is how art and mathematics and computer science are just one. Every division in people’s minds is just artificial,” Barkeshli said.

David Wu, computer science, got involved in brainstorming what to do for Pi Day early on, helping to determine that fractals would be a colorful way to represent Pi.

“We calculate angles using cosign data,” said Wu. “For coloring, every layer has another color. For my project, it starts off at two points, and then using those two points at an angle we give it, it calculates a third point. Then [the program] runs this again, and again, and again exponentially until we get something like a fractal.”

Kyle Dean, computer science, volunteered to work on the computer programming of the fractals used in the chalk art and displays.

“Fractal creation involves mathematic variables which are set on the number of iterations or repeating steps that determine the complexity, which give the graphic detail and color,” said Dean. “Eventually you’ll see the different colors and how it takes effect.”

After creating the fractals, Barkeshli approached an art class to seek last minute volunteers to help create the chalked fractal as the time to complete such large-scale project was becoming shorter.

Students like Sky Parkhurst, undecided, jumped at the opportunity to become involved. Her first time working with fractal art, she started at 9 a.m. on most days just prior to the Pi-Day festival to help meet the deadline to complete the large-scale chalk art project along with other artists. They began on Sunday, March 22, just prior and worked straight through Wednesday to meet the deadline.

“Normally something like this would take about a week or so, but we’ve been given a lot less time,” said Parkhurst. “So I think by the time this is finished we will have spent about 30 hours on it, maybe.”

After a day of working in chalk and covered in color smudges on her hands, face, and closely cropped light hair, Parkhurst applied finishing touches to prevent the same fate to her art.

“I [sprayed] the chalk down with 3 parts water, one part school glue. It soaks through the chalk to keep the wind from blowing away,” she said. “And when I go over it with a second coat, it will blend a little smoother.”

Separate from the time involved in the creation of the computer graphic fractals, the graphics took three student programmers and a project manager three weeks.

“Students work at different levels. More advanced students work with lower levels students, and everybody contributes as much as their knowledge allows,” said Barkeshli. “This brings up the lower level students to expose them to new ideas and teaches the advanced students to manage others.”

Sanctioned by the department of mathematics, math and computer science, Barkeshli credits Dean Carrie Anne Starbird and Professor Yu-Chung Chang-Hou in the well-organized Pi Day Celebration this year.

“I don’t know if you are familiar with getting permission to do something like this, it’s huge,” said Barkeshli. “And for them to let us do this was big.”

One Reply to “PI Day: math and science meet art”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.