SoM at the Atlanta Science Festival
Written by Evans Harrell, Lew Lefton, and Dan Margalit
The School of Mathematics made its presence felt at the Atlanta Science Festival in 2022, with a variety of performances, workshops, and artistic creations.
Mathematics in Motion
On March 13, Professor and Assoc. Dean Emeritus Evans Harrell hosted an event of his creation, called Mathematics in Motion. This event was held in the theater at the Drew Charter School. From the flyer:
Mathematics and the performing arts? Yes, absolutely! Join us during the Atlanta Science Festival to experience how dance and circus arts can interpret math through the beauty of movement!
The show started with a unicycle demonstration by Georgia Tech student Anthony Limiero and recent grad Ziggy Zaptacular. They rode many unicycles of various shapes and sizes while Harrell, acting as emcee, described the various geometric properties of the unicycles and their wheels. Then Harrell (dressed in a clown nose and rainbow wig) showed the audience - with the help of an adorable volunteer - how a non-circular wheel could be used to make a smooth ride on the flat stage. A working model of a unicycle with such a wheel, built by Paul Hartman, was in the building. Its premiere ride in public was accomplished by Anthony, much to the delight of the crowd.
The shape used for Hartman’s unicycle wheel is called a Reauleaux triangle. This is a curved triangle that has an amazing property: it has the same height no matter how it is rotated. This shape is named for the 19th century engineer Franz Realeaux, although the shape was known earlier, for instance to Leonardo Da Vinci.
After the unicycling, Professor Dan Margalit took the stage to give a juggling demonstration and an explanation of the mathematics behind siteswap notation, a kind of sheet music for juggling that was invented independently by three separate groups in the early 1980s.
The third act, Hypercube, was a modern-dance performance in which the dancers manipulated a very large, and very flexible hypercube created by Atlanta artist Julia Hill. This piece was created by Atlanta choreographer Rose Shields, with the collaboration of Sarah Pritchard, one of our star undergraduates in the School. Ms. Shields is an artist in residence at Mathematics in Motion, Inc.
The fourth and final act was a piece called Shape of Reflection, created by Julie Galle Baggenstoss, an instructor in the Emory Dance Program and another resident at Mathematics in Motion, Inc. While guitarist José Chirinos played flamenco music, the dancers played off the inherent asymmetry of the ellipse using both flamenco and hip-hop dance moves.
The performance ended with a question and answer session, hosted by Harrell. Audience members stayed for almost an hour after the performance, and children and adults got a chance to interact directly with the performers. Many were struck by the way that mathematics interfaced with art in so many surprising ways.
What happens when improv comedy gets geeky? Just ask Prof. Lew Lefton (also Assoc. VP for Research and CoS Asst Dean of IT), who hosted an Atlanta Science Festival event called Science Improv on March 16 at Whole World Improv Theater. This event, which puts short-form improv games into a Math and Science context, has been an Atlanta Science Festival favorite, returning every year since the first festival in 2013! The ensemble cast varies from year to year, but frequently includes Georgia Tech faculty and students playing with experienced improvisers. Do you want to see a press conference where Issac Newton announces he’s invented an AI powered lawn mower? Come suggest it at the next Science Improv show.
Jazz Hands: A Science Comedy Event
Prof. Lefton also produced and hosted a stand up comedy showcase on March 23, in partnership with the nonprofit Science for Georgia. Here, Lefton takes advantage of his decades of experience as a stand up and improv comedian to combine a Science Communication course with a Stand up comedy course. Participants learn the basics of comedy and then take a scientific topic and build a 5-7 minute stand up comedy set about it. This year’s cohort performed their “final exam” at Zoo Atlanta and the event was a big success. We had faculty from Emory talking about “Chuck Norris Antibodies” and Ph.D. candidates from Morehouse School of Medicine who were “vaxxed, waxed, and can’t relax!”. The event was also a fundraiser for Science for Georgia which is a nonprofit that works to build stronger bridges between Science and the public through communication, engagement and public policy.
Scientists are funny! And because we’re scientists, we’ve got data to back that statement up! Back by popular demand, and *in 3D*...come see scientists do comedy at Science Jazz Hands! Learn the answers to all of life's mysteries, like "how can you make a math pun that bad?" and "how is religion like nuclear physics?"
In the new, environmentally friendly Kendeda Building on campus, the College of Sciences hosted an event called MindCraft! The Science of Crafting. This event was organized on March 12 by Jennifer Leavey, Assistant Dean in the College of Sciences. From the advertisement:
Are you a maker or a crafter? Ever given much thought to some of the science and technology secrets behind your favorite hobby? Or maybe you haven't picked your pandemic hobby yet and want some inspiration! Make your own mini-crafts and learn about the science of materials in knitting, origami, flower pressing, pottery, and more.
Among the many tables at this science fair-type event, School of Mathematics ran a table called Crocheting Hyperbolic Space. Hyperbolic space is a space that looks like a Pringles potato chip or like certain types of coral. Second-year graduate student Katherine Booth and Professor Dan Margalit taught participants to crochet a hyperbolic plane out of yarn. They explained the phenomenon that on a sphere (which is positively curved) triangles have interior angles greater than π, while in hyperbolic space (which is negatively curved) triangles have interior angles less than π. Children and adults had a blast learning to crochet and discovering the world of negative curvature.
Imagining the Future
Another event run by the Atlanta Science Festival is Imagining the Future, a program that pairs STEM professionals with elementary and secondary school classrooms. The STEM professionals visit with students in their classrooms. The goal is to expose students to aspects of science and academia that they might not be aware of, and to give students a chance to interact with scientists and engineers.
This year, Professor Dan Margalit was paired with Boyd Elementary School, on the west side of Atlanta. He gave a juggling demonstration to second and third grade students and give a basic introduction to siteswap, emphasizing the distinction between even and odd numbers in the siteswap patterns. Students then got to ask questions. At the end, the students practiced their juggling skills with plastic bags from the grocery store. They were very excited!
Science.Art.Wonder is a student organization run by undergraduates at Georgia Tech. In their words:
Science.Art.Wonder matches artists and researchers to create art based on and inspired by scientific research.
This year, Professor Dan Margalit was paired with Olena Buriakova, a third-year Computer Science major from Kyiv. Olena’s painting is titled “The squared lantern relation.” It illustrates an equality in the braid group on three strands. The equality is illustrated as two different braids in the hair of two twin sisters. The painting was exhibited on campus and at the Atlanta Science Festival Exposition on March 26.