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Art for a maths department

I don’t think the university maths department I work in has enough art in it. I have gazed covetously upon the walls of other departments I visit, covered with beautiful mathematically-inspired paintings and inspirational posters, serving as a backdrop to cabinets full of geometrical curiosities. I recently suggested to our Head of School that we could buy some art, and he said “That’s a good idea. Send me some suggestions.”

I was pretty delighted with that response, so I spent an enjoyable hour trawling the internet for art that would inspire and enrich our students and staff. We don’t really have anywhere obvious to put sculptures, so I wanted something you can hang on a wall. I had no idea how much money the Head of School was thinking of spending, so I assumed the worst and tried to stick to cheap posters and prints as a starting point. I wasn’t just looking for art – anything to decorate the walls, even if it ends up teaching the students something, is desirable.

My first port of call was my Arty Maths blog. I’ve been collecting nice bits of art that invoke or involve maths (and not art created purely to represent maths) for almost two years now. Unfortunately, it turns out I’ve almost exclusively been collecting sculptures and video works. That meant I had to do some googling!

Because I found some nice things, and in case anyone else is tasked with decorating a maths department and needs ideas, here’s what I found:

Factor Conga

Quite a few designery visualisations of the prime numbers have been put out on the web recently, to varying degrees of success. Most of the time they look pretty but don’t tell you very much; the most recent example I can think of is El Patrón de los Números Primos by Jason Davies.

A few weeks ago Brent Yorgey posted on his excellent blog The Math Less Traveled some really nice “factorization diagrams“, along with the code to produce them. Straight away, anyone with a text editor and a knack for fancy web coding set to work making the animated version that was so clearly required.

Stephen von Worley has made, I think, the nicest one. He calls it the Factor Conga. Sit back and enjoy the mysteries of the natural numbers as they dance their beguiling dance!