Know http://www.utexas.edu/know/ Fri, 27 Mar 2015 22:23:45 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Tower Darkens March 28 for Earth Hour 2015 http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/27/tower-darkens-march-28-for-earth-hour-2015/ http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/27/tower-darkens-march-28-for-earth-hour-2015/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 18:36:16 +0000 Tracy Mueller http://www.utexas.edu/know/?p=38223 Saturday night, March 28, the UT Tower will go black in recognition of Earth Hour – a global event that raises awareness about humanity’s collective impact on the planet and how we can make a positive difference towards its preservation.

Only the clock faces and aircraft warning lights will remain illuminated.

This marks the sixth year that UT has participated in Earth Hour. Those wishing to participate more fully at work or at home are encouraged to turn off all nonessential lights to raise support for energy conservation.

Earth Hour was conceived in 2007 as a simple way to engage people in the issue of climate change. It has since expanded into a global phenomena that includes hundreds of millions of people. Organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature, the movement emphasizes the need for climate change awareness to extend beyond the day of the event and into the daily concerns of individuals and communities.

Learn more about UT’s sustainability initiatives.

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What We Should Not Do With Drone Regulation http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/24/what-we-should-not-do-with-drone-regulation/ http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/24/what-we-should-not-do-with-drone-regulation/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 13:58:32 +0000 mp35922 http://www.utexas.edu/know/?p=38205 Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are definitely the “in” thing nowadays. Never before have highly capable drones been so inexpensive and widely available.

But with this new frontier comes problems, and how we proceed in terms of regulation will dictate whether the drone industry can take off in the United States.

Perhaps a perfect example of the problems that can arise came last August when nearly 100,000 football fans gathered at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin to watch the Longhorn football season opener.

Hovering above the stadium was a drone with blue and red blinking lights. The police watched as the drone shifted from one area of the stadium to another. When the drone’s operator finally recalled the device and landed it at his feet in a nearby parking lot, the police immediately took both drone and operator into custody.

The situation turned out to be no more menacing than a devoted, but ticketless, football fan trying to watch the game through the video feed on his drone. But the police could not have known this beforehand and had to treat the incident as a potential chemical, biological, or explosive attack on the multitude of gathered spectators.

As we enter an age of highly capable and increasingly autonomous drones purchasable for a few hundred dollars over the Internet, the intrusion at the football stadium will be replayed in various forms at sites all over the United States, some critical to security.

The great majority of these incidents will be accidental, such as the flyaway drone that recently crashed on the White House grounds. But in the early stages of a UAV incursion, it will be impossible to distinguish the accidental from the intentional, the benign from the malicious.

The distressing truth is that even consumer-grade drones can be rigged to carry out potent attacks against which our defenses will either be only weakly effective or so militarized that the defenses themselves will pose a threat to the surrounding civil infrastructure.

So what should the Federal Aviation Administration do? Let’s start with what they should not do.

Imposing restrictions on small UAVs beyond the sensible restrictions the FAA recently proposed would not significantly reduce the threat of rogue drones or their operators. But additional restrictions would shackle the emerging commercial drone industry.

Even the FAA’s current ban on non-line-of-sight drone control would be of little consequence to a criminal capable of modifying open-source autopilot software.

The best way forward is for the FAA to adopt simple measures that sharply reduce the risk of accidental or unsophisticated drone incursions, such as voluntary manufacturer-imposed geofencing.

For especially critical sites such as the White House, detection and tracking systems based on electro-optical sensors will be most effective, particularly those applying infrared sensor pattern recognition to distinguish a drone’s warm motors and batteries from a bird’s warm body.

A squadron of at-the-ready interceptor drones, guided by the tracking system, could snare the intruder in a net and haul it off.

Cities such as Paris, where drones seem to pop up regularly around nuclear plants and government buildings, could adopt a large-scale version of this system, deploying electro-optical sensors and interceptor drones at key sites across the city.

We should refrain from any more drastic measures than these until the threat of drones proves to be more of a menace than recent incidents, which were alarming but nonetheless harmless.

Todd Humphreys is an assistant professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegram and the Corpus Christi Caller Times.

To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.

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Agriculture Should be Part of Our Carbon Policy http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/19/agriculture-should-be-part-of-our-carbon-policy/ http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/19/agriculture-should-be-part-of-our-carbon-policy/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 15:00:51 +0000 mp35922 http://www.utexas.edu/know/?p=38071 In light of President Barack Obama’s looming carbon regulations for existing U.S. power plants, it’s worth remembering that a comprehensive climate policy needs to do more than tackle smokestacks.

It also needs to do something about agriculture. And more broadly, Texans and the rest of the nation need to think more environmentally about the way they eat.

After fossil fuel combustion, agriculture is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the nation. Despite consuming 2 percent or less of our energy, agriculture generates 10 percent of our emissions.

And while other sectors of the economy are reducing emissions, agriculture is heading in the opposite direction. This trend is bad for Texas and the U.S.

Agriculture primarily emits two potent greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide and methane, from activities such as the application of nitrogen-based fertilizers, manure management and burps from cows. And, agriculture is a source of dust and precursors for air pollution.

But, agriculture often gets a pass when it comes to air quality laws.

Historians can debate why this happened in the past, but to allow it to continue by giving agriculture a pass on its greenhouse gas emissions would be a huge mistake moving forward.

Regulations on carbon emissions disproportionately affect states that rely heavily on coal-fired electricity such as Indiana and Illinois, while states such as Washington that rely on hydropower would not be noticeably affected.

By contrast, everyone in America eats, so putting a price on the carbon intensity of food would spread more uniformly across society so we all share in the benefits and costs.

It’s true that farmers will have to make adaptations, but through incentives we can make these revenue neutral for farmers who lower emissions.

If we were to put a price on agricultural carbon, consumers would face higher prices for more carbon-intensive foods, such as meat. The change would encourage healthy shifts in diet and could dramatically lower emissions, because meat is known to be much more carbon-intensive to produce than fruits, grains and vegetables.

The agricultural sector may balk, saying that holding it accountable for emissions the way we hold other sectors of the economy accountable will be bad for business. But this is not true. There are plenty of ways farmers can adapt to a lower carbon world and even find new revenue streams in the process.

Consider the 100 million tons of manure that livestock generate each year. Those piles are a major source of greenhouse gases and a major headache for farmers, who have to deal with economic, environmental and legal liability from odor and handling costs.

Those same mounds of manure, however, are potentially a rich source of biogas, which could offset 4 percent of our annual natural gas consumption. This might be one of the easiest, cheapest and fastest ways to produce a significant amount of renewable, low-carbon, domestic energy that is available around the clock.

Another big opportunity is to reduce food waste. Amazingly, anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of our food is wasted, which amounts to a tremendous, equally wasteful use of energy and emissions. We quite literally throw that food-energy right into the garbage.

Reducing food waste is a straightforward way to reduce energy and emissions from the food system, and it should save money for everyone along the entire food supply chain, from farmers to retailers to grocery shoppers.

Most important, certain land management techniques can sequester hundreds of millions of tons of carbon into soils each year. No one is better suited to do this at larger scale than the agricultural sector. Putting carbon back into the soil from conservation programs does society an important service, and farmers should be paid handsomely for it.

The time has arrived to tackle climate change in a comprehensive way. At a policy level, we have to stop giving agriculture a free pass. If we can drive more efficient cars, insulate our homes and use less coal, surely we can also reduce emissions from the food we eat.

Michael Webber is the deputy director of the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Corpus Christi Caller Times.

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Tower Shines for Track and Field Big 12 Championships http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/18/tower-shines-for-track-and-field-big-12-championships/ http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/18/tower-shines-for-track-and-field-big-12-championships/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 15:54:25 +0000 Nicholas Persac http://www.utexas.edu/know/?p=38055

Texas Track and Field

The University of Texas at Austin Tower will be lit orange Wednesday, March 18 to honor the Texas Track and Field teams for winning both the men’s and women’s Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships. Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics.

The Tower will shine with orange lights Wednesday, March 18 to honor the Texas Track and Field teams for winning both the men’s and women’s Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships.

The Longhorns last swept the titles in 2006, but this year’s victories mark the first time a single school has won both the men’s and women’s titles at the Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships since 2012. This year’s women’s team successfully defended their 2014 title, and the men’s team returned to the conference’s top position after last winning the title in 2013.

After the title sweep, men’s head coach Mario Sategna’s peers selected him as the Big 12 Conference Men’s Coach of the Year, and sprinter Courtney Okolo was named the Women’s Indoor Track and Field Co-Outstanding Performer of the Year.

“Winning is going to continue to happen at the University of Texas at Austin,” Sategna says. “I think now more and more these athletes in that program are starting to see the light. They saw that if they pull together as a team and as a group there’s going to be some great things that happen.”

To win the Big 12 titles, the women’s team went toe-to-toe with Kansas State and pulled off the victory during the final four events with a 6.5 point lead. The men’s team, meanwhile, outperformed second-place Texas Tech by more than 40 points. 

[Learn more about the Tower’s different lighting configurations.]

The Longhorns then competed in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, where each team finished sixth overall.

During the NCAA championships, Courtney Okolo won the national title in the 400 meters race, and the Longhorns also won the national title in the women’s 4×400 meter relay with the No. 5 time in collegiate history.

Follow The University of Texas at Austin on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and share your Tower lighting pictures using the hashtag #UTTower.

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We Need to Protect Ourselves From Our Phones http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/17/we-need-to-protect-ourselves-from-our-phones/ http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/17/we-need-to-protect-ourselves-from-our-phones/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 18:16:16 +0000 mp35922 http://www.utexas.edu/know/?p=38050 When it comes to cellphones, we are no better than trained rats in a box.

Just the other day, I was stuck behind a driver playing with a cellphone while driving. I have gotten used to assuming that everyone doing something silly on the road is driving while distracted.

In Austin, San Antonio and several other Texas cities, it is illegal to text or hold a phone while driving. It is also illegal to hold a phone while driving in 14 states and to text while driving in 44 states.

So, why are people still using their phones while driving, even though most of us know it leads to hundreds of thousands of injuries in distracted driving crashes each year?

Because as it turns out, most of us are addicted to our phones.

In my introductory psychology class in college, my lab partner and I got a rat to train. The rat was in a small box with a small cup that could be filled with water and a bar on one side of the cage that the rat could press.

The rat was thirsty, so the water was a great reward. At first we gave the rat water when he went near the bar, then when he brushed it, next when he touched it, and finally when he pressed it.

After that, the ideal schedule of reward was to give it water about half the time it pressed the bar randomly. This schedule keeps the rat pressing the bar for a long time.

You create this schedule of reward for yourself with cellphone use. You pull your phone out at intervals that give you the reward of a new message about half the time you check it.

Once the habit is set, you start getting a serious craving to pull out the phone when too much time goes by. Cravings are painful, and so it is easy to give in and check the phone, particularly because the odds of crashing are small, even if they are vastly higher than they would be if you drove without texting.

Unfortunately no amount of information about the dangers of distracted driving is going to change people’s behavior. The habit to pull out the cellphone is at addiction-level strength.

Hefty penalties for distracted driving help a bit, but the odds of being pulled over are also low. It would send a strong message for all states to ban texting and require hands-free devices (although even talking on a hands-free device is still distracted driving).

It would also be valuable for the media to report more of the crashes that involve distracted driving, even when they do not involve fatalities.

Beyond laws and fines, what needs to happen is people need to protect themselves from themselves.

A key principle of changing behavior is to fix the environment to make desirable behaviors easy and undesirable behaviors hard.

If you’re a cellphone junkie, then create a new habit. Before you start the car, put your cellphone in the glove compartment or the console between the seats. Otherwise, you have about the same chance of keeping yourself from checking the phone while driving that a rat does of avoiding the bar.

Art Markman is a professor of psychology and marketing at The University of Texas at Austin and author of the book “Smart Change.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Austin American Statesman.

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Police Body Cameras are Only Part of a Positive Community Relationship http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/12/police-body-cameras-are-only-part-of-a-positive-community-relationship/ http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/12/police-body-cameras-are-only-part-of-a-positive-community-relationship/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2015 14:59:30 +0000 mp35922 http://www.utexas.edu/know/?p=38019 Police badge cams, those small, portable video recorders, are the latest tool being deployed by police departments around the U.S. to improve crime-fighting and community trust.

They are valuable, but limited, tools for building safer neighborhoods, and more is needed to foster a positive relationship between police and the public.

The Los Angeles Police Department knows this well as it reviews a set of badge cam videos from a shooting in that city that left a homeless man dead. The badge cam videos recorded one of the officers shouting that the man had grabbed for his gun, according to news reports.

The advantages of badge cams are twofold.

First, they provide another piece of evidence for the kind of tragic case unfolding in Los Angeles. Studies find that witnesses, even victims of crime, are often inaccurate and subject to cognitive bias, including racial bias. Video cameras can provide an independent visual record of events unfolding in real time.

Also, as indicated by a study from Rialto, California, where complaints about police plummeted, badge cams seem to have a preventive effect. An officer wearing a badge cam is more likely to take a deep breath before saying something inappropriate or rude in a stressful situation — and in turn is protected from bogus complaints.

Still, badge cams can only do so much in fostering goodwill between police and the public. Rogue officers can turn them off.

A badge cam also shows only the officer’s point of view, which is valuable, but that is only one perspective. The wider view from cellphone videos from Los Angeles, for instance, shows a somewhat chaotic scene with a number of officers, two suspects and many bystanders.

Camera perspective is like political perspective: The view from changes when you switch sides. This is why responsible police accountability activism, in which members of the public film police activity without interfering, is essential.

Citizens need to exercise their right to film police in public. The more perspectives, the better.

My research explores the way video must also be defined and explained. One of the most famous arrests caught on video was that of Rodney King, who was beaten by multiple officers in 1991. When defense attorneys showed the video in court in segments, explaining frame by frame what police were doing, the case ended with acquittals for all of the officers.

Trust between police departments and residents, therefore, requires more than video. Recent events in Ferguson, New York City and other parts of the U.S. have called attention to the wide disparities in the way African Americans and white Americans experience the justice system.

African American parents in Texas and across the U.S. lament the fact that they must have a “talk” with their teenagers that has nothing to do with the birds and the bees, but instead about how to respond during a police stop to avoid violence.

The hashtag trend #crimingwhilewhite, while not scientific, provides multiple anecdotes of the way white and black Americans experience policing very differently.

Badge cam video only has evidentiary value after something has happened. This is why in my classroom I spend many hours talking about stereotypes and how the brain processes visual information. Simply put, our brains respond differently — more quickly, more emotionally — to visuals, particularly fearful ones.

Even with their extensive training, police officers are humans who experience excitement, danger and fear, and they have occasion to face such emotions every day on the job.

As long as people with darker skin are stereotyped as dangerous, their appearance can spark fearful, or at worst, violent, responses.

Safer communities, therefore, require badge cams, public cameras, even-handed law enforcement and departments with diverse staffing. Video is great for a look at the evidence, but American justice is symbolized with a blindfold for good reason. Fairness is served only when everyone is “seen” the same way by the law.

Mary Bock is an assistant professor of journalism at The University of Texas at Austin.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegram and Austin American Statesman.

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Pieces of Pi http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/10/pieces-of-pi/ http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/10/pieces-of-pi/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 22:09:07 +0000 Cory Leahy http://www.utexas.edu/know/?p=38025 mosaic pi symbol

The constant pi is represented in this mosaic outside the Mathematics Building at the Technical University of Berlin. Photo: Holger Motzkau, used by creative commons license.

Pi Day, celebrated every year on March 14, corresponds with the first three digits of pi. (March 14 also happens to be Albert Einstein’s birthday.) Pi pops up anytime you want to mathematically describe a circle, curve or sphere. But this year’s Pi Day is extra special because throwing in the year gives you the first five digits of pi (3.1415) — something that only happens once a century.

Scientists and mathematicians at The University of Texas at Austin have reasons to celebrate pi year round. Here’s a sampling of how pi plays a central role in their research.

Extrasolar Planets

Astronomer Bill Cochran uses pi every day in his search for planets around other stars, called extrasolar planets. Pi is a key element in measuring the size and shape of an extrasolar planet’s orbit. Knowing that information about the orbit can tell you whether the planet is in a region around a star that might support life, called the habitable zone. Pi is also useful in determining the size of a planet, which is important if you want to find Earth-like planetary cousins.

Drug Discovery

Computer scientist Chandrajit Bajaj uses computer simulations to predict how well a drug might bind to a drug target, such as a virus or tumor cell. Since real-life drug trials are costly, this method can help sort through drug candidates to select the most promising ones to pursue. His simulation essentially tries to stick a drug and drug target together in thousands upon thousands of different ways, like rotating pieces of a 3D jigsaw puzzle, to find a match. A formula that includes pi helps insure that these binding attempts are evenly distributed in 3D space.

Tracking Tumors

Mathematician Andrew Blumberg is collaborating on a research project that charts how a person’s cancerous tumor evolves over time, with the hopes of finding more effective treatments. The genetic changes in a tumor can be mapped out in a 3D evolutionary tree. To measure how far different versions of the tumor have evolved apart — and predict how effective certain treatments might be against it — he uses a calculation that involves pi.

One True Constant

Some physicists have suggested that our universe is but one of many universes, each with its own set of physical constants. These other universes might have electrons with different charges than ours, for example, or gravitational constants that are weaker or stronger. But in a system where so much seems capable of change, Bill Cochran says pi is one of those rare physical constants.

“I couldn’t imagine a different universe where pi would be different,” he says. “It’s so intimately tied to geometry and I don’t see how you could change geometry. Even if string theory is right, and there are something like 14 dimensions, as long as you have at least two dimensions, you’d still have pi.”


So celebrate Pi Day! Eat some pie. Compose a piem (that’s a poem where the number of letters in each word is equal to the corresponding digit of pi). Toss some frozen hot dogs on the floor a few hundred times and calculate the value of pi yourself. View pi-inspired art from the university community at the Art of Pi virtual exhibit. And watch for public art displays like this one at the University’s Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library, or the amazing one that appeared in the skies over downtown Austin and campus last year. An artist teamed up with an aerial advertising company to write hundreds of digits of pi a quarter mile high.

numbers of pi skywritten above the UT tower

Pi in the Sky 2014. Photo by Cory Leahy.

You may also like:
Making Pi (Know)

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Requiring a Civics Test for High School Graduation Would Be Good Policy for Texas http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/10/requiring-a-civics-test-for-high-school-graduation-would-be-good-policy-for-texas/ http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/10/requiring-a-civics-test-for-high-school-graduation-would-be-good-policy-for-texas/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 14:15:34 +0000 mp35922 http://www.utexas.edu/know/?p=37903 Think back to your grade school days and those many times when you had to memorize a lesson. Even decades removed from the exam, you might still remember the material, even if it never had relevance in your life again.

But the ability to recall the quadratic formula, for example, masks a much bigger question: Did memorizing the material lead you to apply it to your life?

That is one of the questions raised by a recent move in Texas, Arizona and several other states to begin requiring students to pass a civics test to graduate.

North Dakota has already approved a requirement similar to Arizona’s, and South Carolina, Indiana and Utah have bills in the pipeline.

Few would dispute the statements made by the sponsor of a bill that would require Texas students to pass a civics test, Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler, who was quoted as saying “When you start having students graduate from high school who don’t know where we got our independence from and that kind of stuff, I think it’s a little frightening. I want kids to know as much as people who become citizens of the United States.”

Concern about students’ levels of civic knowledge has plagued Texas and the nation for a while. Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in civics barely rose between 2006 and 2010 for eighth- and 12th-graders, though they did edge up for fourth-graders.

But beyond civic knowledge, Texans should be concerned about a student’s ability to participate as an active citizen.

The most recent Texas Civic Health Index completed by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life found startlingly low levels of civic engagement among all Texans, including young adults, on everything from voting to discussing issues to communicating with their elected representatives.

An exam that tests a student’s civic knowledge would enable and encourage some of those students to participate more actively in civic life. But research shows that three ingredients are necessary for more students to become active citizens: civic knowledge, civic skills and pro-civic attitudes.

Building all three requires a curriculum, sometimes called “action civics,” that not only teaches kids facts, but also offers an experiential learning opportunity that encourages students to identify, research, and address community needs.

From an attitudinal standpoint, students need to grasp the significance of government in their daily lives and the need for an ongoing dialogue with their elected and appointed public servants.

What is needed is a more profound project-based civics curriculum that encourages students across Texas to research current issues of interest and articulate causes and solutions. Those experiences help make civics fun, challenging and, perhaps most importantly, relevant to a student’s life.

Research shows that such experiences significantly increase a young person’s inclination to become civically active as an adult — to vote, to join a community organization, to contact elected representatives and to continue speaking out on issues that concern them for the rest of their lives.

The challenge of making students more civically literate is daunting. While adding another graduation requirement in a state with already extremely low graduation rates may give some reason to pause and while some Texans bemoan more school assessments, an exam would help make teaching civics more of a priority.

After all, if teachers are evaluated partly on the basis of their students’ test scores, then those teachers would probably be more motivated to spend more time on civics lessons if their students had to take an exam in that subject.

Students themselves might also show a greater interest in the subject if they knew that mastering the three branches of our federal government and key milestones in American political history was a key part to their advancement.

It is encouraging to see the topics of civic literacy and civic engagement entering the public consciousness in Texas.

If an exam does become required and gets paired with added resources for action civics, students would be given the opportunity to practice what is being preached, develop fluency in the language of civics, and become lifelong engaged citizens.

Regina Lawrence, Larry Schooler and Deborah Wise are affiliated with the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at The University of Texas at Austin.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, San Antonio Express News, The Charlotte Observer, the Northwest Indiana Times and the Dallas Morning News.

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Making Pi http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/09/making-pi/ http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/09/making-pi/#comments Mon, 09 Mar 2015 22:29:59 +0000 Cory Leahy http://www.utexas.edu/know/?p=37944 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 π 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.

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Five Great UT Artistic Landmarks http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/09/five-great-ut-artistic-landmarks/ http://www.utexas.edu/know/2015/03/09/five-great-ut-artistic-landmarks/#comments Mon, 09 Mar 2015 22:17:05 +0000 Tracy Mueller http://www.utexas.edu/know/?p=37927 Like any top-notch university, The University of Texas at Austin campus is home to state-of-the-art labs, extensive library collections and hundreds of classrooms designed to enrich the student experience.

But that’s not where education or the campus identity ends.

Spend any time on the Forty Acres, and you’ll find yourself encountering some rather extraordinary art, even if you don’t seek it out — and often without setting foot inside a building. That’s due in large part to Landmarks, the university’s public art program that launched in 2008.

[Learn more about all of UT’s museums, libraries and exhibition and performance spaces.]

At 36 pieces and counting, the Landmarks collection helps ensure UT is not only an academic campus, but a cultured one, too. Much like the classroom discussions and lab experiments taking place around them, the sculptures, murals, videos and installations Landmarks brings to UT create a vibrant campus that encourages new ideas, debates and thoughtful reflection.

We took a closer look at five important pieces of campus art and their relationships to the settings in which they reside.

Gates Dell Complex / A Mathematical Theory of Communication

A Mathematical Theory of Communication

Photo by Paul Bardagjy.

It’s only fitting for a building that houses the top-10 ranked Department of Computer Science and the Artificial Intelligence Lab to be the home of a piece of art created with computer programming.

Artist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate Casey Reas, whose work has been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, is the co-creator of an open-source programming language called Processing, which he manipulates to produce digital art.

Reas’ A Mathematical Theory of Communication is a mural on two separate walls in The Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex & Dell Computer Science Hall (map). The piece is a site-specific commission for Landmarks and is named after a seminal 1948 article of the same name that helped establish the field of information theory.

In her artist entry for the piece, New School faculty member Christiane Paul writes, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication puts viewers in the middle of the data landscape, inviting them to experience algorithms and the digital medium in both its fidelity and uncertainties. While the murals create this experience on the basis of specific imagery, they raise questions about perception that ultimately apply to any work of digital (or even visual) art: how do images communicate their message and how do we decode and perceive them?”

In other words, it’s both art and science.

Walter Cronkite Plaza / And That’s the Way It Is

And That's The Way It Is

Photo by Paul Bardagjy.

Evoking legendary newsman and UT alumnus Walter Cronkite’s broadcast sign-off, And That’s the Way It Is projects a grid of text from televised news broadcasts onto one of the Moody College of Communication buildings that overlooks the plaza (map) every evening.

Landmarks commissioned the piece in 2012 from sound designer and visual artist Ben Rubin. His own software scans and selects segments of closed caption transcripts of live network news and archival transcripts of Cronkite’s vintage CBS Evening News broadcasts, each displaying in a different typography. As daily news is generated, the language adapts to reflect current events, connecting the past and present in surprising and poetic ways.

Cronkite attended UT in the 1930s and studied political science, economics and journalism. He also worked for the university newspaper, The Daily Texan, which is headquartered across the plaza from the video projection. He was anchorman and managing editor for the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981, and his personal archive is housed at UT’s Briscoe Center for American History.

[Related: Five Great Longhorn Speeches]

Student Activity Center / The Color Inside

The color Inside

The Color Inside during the day (left) and during a light sequence (right). Photos by Florian Holzherr.

When the new Student Activity Center (map) was being designed, students requested a “reflection room” for the building, which is bustling with Longhorns attending events, grabbing lunch and studying. Now, perched on the roof above that constant activity, sits The Color Inside, by renowned “sculptor of light” James Turrell.

The structure, designed specifically for the university, is one of Turrell’s signature Skyspace naked-eye observatories. The Color Inside is an elliptical white-plaster tower with an oval opening in the ceiling. A black basalt bench lines the reclining walls, with room for just 25 people.

At sunrise and sunset custom LED lights unleash brilliant washes of color on the ceiling, morphing slowly between all manner of pinks, purples, whites, greens and yellows. Meanwhile, the sky changes color with the rising or setting of the sun and in comparison to the ceiling. In one sunset sequence, the sky shifts from indigo to gray to rust and then finally a vivid teal set against saturated watermelon LEDs.

The design of the tower and the intensity of the lights sometimes make it impossible to discern sky from ceiling. All sense of depth seems to disappear.

“I hope that people find it as a place of refuge, a way to cultivate attention and have a moment of quiet in a busy day,” says Landmarks director Andrée Bober, who hopes the piece becomes a new university icon.

Perry-Castañeda Library / Square Tilt

Square Tilt

Left to right: Photos by Ben Aqua and Paul Bardagjy

In its 2014 “Best of Austin” critics poll, the Austin Chronicle named the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) Austin’s “Best Brutalist Architecture,” a prime example of the midcentury architecture movement that once produced massive concrete structures but has since fallen out of fashion. The exterior of the PCL (map), which opened in 1977, displays all the hallmarks of Brutalism. In the words of the Chronicle, the PCL has “an imposing fortress-like appearance, sharp angles, a complex form out of simple geometry, rough macro-texture of repetitive windows, and those awesome walls of concrete that threaten to smash your ignorant meatbrain into a state of education.”

It’s also an intriguing backdrop for the off-balance, abstract piece, Square Tilt, which sits on the PCL plaza. Constructed in 1983 by Joel Perlman, and on permanent loan from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Square Tilt is a 10-foot-tall open rectangular frame made of steel with smaller geometric steel plates attached at various angles. It possesses a sense of liveliness and uncertainty that stands in contrast to the PCL’s weighty, dense demeanor.

And yet, as a portal, which Perlman’s work is often likened to, Square Tilt is a natural partner for the university’s main library, home to 70 miles of book stacks, 3.2 million volumes and countless students cramming for finals.

Consider this line from the artist entry about the sculpture: “Square Tilt consequently carries connotations of openness, far horizons, and passage into other domains of perception and thought.”

On a good day, that’s what happens at the library, too.

[Related: Five Great UT Ideas]

Bass Concert Hall / Various Sculptures

Bass Concert Hall sculptures

Clockwise from top: Column of Peace by Antoine Pevsner (Photo by Robert Boland), Untitled (Seven Mountains) by Ursula von Rydingsvard (Photo by Mark Menjivar), Amphora by Bryan Hunt (Photo by Mark Menjivar) and The Swan’s Dream of Leda by David Hare (Photo by Mark Menjivar).

A goal of the Landmarks program is to be a primary resource for students in their fields of study, art or otherwise. Take the recent “Sound in Sculpture” concert, which featured the premiere performance of five compositions by Butler School of Music students inspired by sculptures in Bass Concert Hall (map). Each original work was performed next to the sculpture that inspired it, with musician and audience member sometimes less than three feet apart.

Music composition doctoral student Elizabeth Anne Cominellis was drawn to artist Antoine Pevsner’s Column of Peace (top row, above), located on the east side of the fourth floor of Bass. The bronze sculpture, created in 1954, was meant as a monument to postwar peace and was actually a model for a large memorial that was never realized.

Taking cues from the sculpture’s four intersecting, upwardly rising diagonal arms, Cominellis composed a piece that “share(s) melodic material among instruments” and that contains various textures and timbres, reminiscent of the sculpture’s delicate ridges. The trajectory of the columns is echoed in the conclusion of her composition, which is titled “Peace I Leave with You,” a reference to the promise Jesus Christ makes in the New Testament. “Much as the sculpture shoots to the top and fans outward slightly, each instrument, as the music draws to a close, rises to a dramatic peak, each playing in its most extreme high register,” Cominellis explains.

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