Marymount Students Play “Star” Role at National Math Festival

Forty Marymount University students built a hyperbolic star sculpture out of Zometool plastic components as part of the inaugural National Math Festival at the Smithsonian’s S. Dillon Ripley Center on Saturday, April 18. The star was nearly six feet in diameter.

“I think it was a big success,” said Alice Petillo, an assistant professor of mathematics at MU and one of four members of the math faculty who participated in the event. “I’m pretty big on creating experiences with math outside of the classrooms, and what we were doing was creating a mathematical sculpture.”

While 11 of the Marymount students were math majors, the rest came from different disciplines.

“They had a lot of fun putting the sculpture together and people were impressed,” Petillo said, noting that hundreds of people saw the work, including professional mathematicians, Smithsonian employees, parents and kids.

Overall, the free public event drew thousands of people and brought together performances, hands-on demonstrations, lectures and exhibitions at several Smithsonian locations. Organizers called it the first-of-its-kind National Math Festival dedicated to discovering “the delight and power of mathematics.” It featured more than 70 activities for every age—from hands-on magic and Houdini-like getaways to lectures from influential mathematicians.

Petillo said a goal of the project was to counter the negative experiences that many people have had with mathematics.

“To me math is God’s fingerprints on the universe,” Petillo said. “I want students to see the power, the utility and the beauty of mathematics, whether or not they’re great at it.”

The 2015 National Math Festival was organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution.

Photo Captions:

Photo 1
Marymount University students built a sculpture of a hyperbolic star as part of the inaugural National Math Festival at the Smithsonian’s S. Dillon Ripley Center. From left: Nicole Ferree, Kayla Baughman, Bernadette Wunderly, Linera Abieva and Marina Romadan (standing).

Photo 2
Lyn Taylor of Zometool, Shonell Moses, Owen Comer and Alice Petillo look over the sculpture.

Photo 3
Lyn Taylor of Zometool and Marymount student Owen Comer at the National Math Festival.