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Making Pi

This year’s Pi Day (March 14, 2015) corresponds to the first five numerals of pi (3.1415).

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This year’s Pi Day (March 14, 2015) corresponds to the first five numerals of pi (3.1415). In honor of this auspicious numerical alignment, the Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library (PMA) asked Longhorns to submit artistic representations of the ratio found in every circle (ratio of circumference to diameter). From knitting to sewing to computer-generated graphics, the interpretations illustrate the artfulness of pi. (And check out ways that UT Austin researchers use pi in their work every day.)


“Spring Pi” by PMA Libraries head librarian Molly White and Jack Moore (pinscreen impression).

artistic representation of pi


“Orchard” by mathematics graduate student Aaron Fenyes (digital art). In this garden, seeds were planted in a neat grid, but not all of them grew into flowers. Each seed cast a shadow in a straight line out from the center of the garden, and the seeds planted in the shadows did not sprout. When the flowers were gathered, and the size of the harvest was measured, a factor of pi appeared. I do not know why pi came to this orderly garden, shaped only by straight lines. Perhaps it was attracted by the buzzing of the bees, as it is by all music?


“Pi Pile” by mathematics graduate student Aaron Fenyes (digital art). This pile was made by dropping twelve thousand balls through a giant pachinko machine, with six thousand layers of pins. Its height reflects, as expected, the number of balls and the number of pins, but it also contains a factor of pi. I do not know why pi took a hand in this game, which should have been ruled only by the laws of chance. Perhaps it was attracted by the thought that, in a three-dimensional pachinko machine, the balls would have fallen in a circular pile?


“Pi Spiral” by astronomy graduate student Aaron Javier Juarez (digital art – Python scripting language). This work contains 3,000 digits of pi, approximated will a simple generator function. The background is 314 stacked circles with different radii and colors, to give the illusion of a color gradient.


“Special Triangles of Pi” by astronomy graduate student Aaron Javier Juarez, (digital art – Python scripting language). This work conveys the special right triangles [red (30-60-90 deg), green (45-45-90 deg), and blue (60-30-90 deg) triangles] and their angles found from the unit circle. Along the vertical center of the piece are equilateral triangles whose sides are scaled by a factor of pi from one another. The “fog” effect of the color in the background is actually many encircling circles with varying opacity. In fact, all the gradients you see are illusions, created by many stacked shapes with varying colors.


“Pi Pincushion” by PMA Libraries librarian Dave Gilson (bamboo yarn, straight pins). Knit in the round, starting by increasing in stitches and ending by reducing the number of stitches. These increases and decreases change the radius which in turns changes the circumference of the row being knit causing the base to expand and then the top to contract until it is closed up.


“Berry Hot Pi” by Life Sciences Library head librarian Nancy Elder (cotton fabric). I used to calculate the circumference of the pie.

UT student creativity


This story is part of our series “The Creative Campus,” which showcases student creativity. Learn more about the Creative 40 Acres program, which supports student artistic expression at the university.