Snake Pendulum fuses art and science

A giant snake pendulum that will be on display in front of Phillips Hall for Arts Everywhere Day April 7 is a perfect mashup of art and science.

The 8-by-11-foot kinetic sculpture is the brainchild of mathematics department chair Rich McLaughlin and physics and astronomy department chair Christian lliadis in the College of Arts & Sciences. The weights at the end of the pendula are 6-pound Carolina blue shotputs.

“The motion they make together is the artistic part, but underlying that, it’s all science,” Iliadis said. “It’s gravity, tension, energy, linear momentum, air drag, friction. You see symmetry, but where is the symmetry coming from? It’s all equations.”When the 17 pendula of different lengths are released simultaneously, they create an undulating pattern that looks like a slithering snake. The pendula then disengage and swing in separate patterns before coming together again in a large wave. The cycle — which is hypnotic to watch — takes about a minute.

The faculty members had the idea to scale up a small tabletop snake pendulum (with Carolina golf balls as weights) that sits on McLaughlin’s office desk. He has used that smaller version for several years in his Chancellor’s Science Scholars Summer Bridge class.

On a recent Friday afternoon in the physics and astronomy shop on the first floor of Phillips Hall, Francesca Bernardi, a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics, and Dan Harris, a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics, worked to tune the pendulum. They used a metronome to help coordinate the release of the pendula, and iPhone and iPad cameras to examine the video of the wave movement frame-by-frame and make the proper adjustments. They drafted the plan several weeks ago, and shop manager Phil Thompson built the pendulum. Funds from Arts Everywhere supported the project.

Combining art and science has been a focus of his research throughout his graduate career, Harris said.

“Anyone who walks by and sees the pendulum will be intrigued by it, and that opens a door to a conversation about what makes it work — how changing the length of the pendula changes the frequency, for instance,” he said.

Bernardi agreed, and recounted an experience using the 3-D printer in the Hanes Art Center makerspace recently that led to a conversation about art and science.

“One of the people who worked there asked me details about our experiment. Art can be a way to make science more accessible to everyone,” she said.

One of the components of Carolina’s new “Creating Scientists” Quality Enhancement Plan focuses on integrating the arts and humanities with science courses to provide critical thinking skills and an understanding of the myriad ways in which science and culture are intertwined.

Duane Deardorff, director of undergraduate laboratories in physics and astronomy, said faculty members in the department uses all kinds of visual elements as teaching tools.

“These things draw people in to ask: How does that work? I suspect we will be showing videos of the snake pendulum as well.”

Story by Kim Spurr, photos by Kristen Chavez, College of Arts & Sciences; video courtesy of department of mathematics 
The snake pendulum will also make an appearance at Phillips Hall at the UNC Science Expo on April 22.

Paul Cornwell Wins Student Paper Prize

Paul Cornwell

Paul Cornwell was invited to give a talk at a minisymposium from March 29 – April 1 and on March 30, Paul was awarded the Student Paper Prize at the IMACS Nonlinear Waves meeting in Athens, GA.

Huge Congratulations to Paul!!

Dr. Saray Shai Received the Postdoc Award for Research for Excellence

Each year, the Postdoctoral Awards for Research Excellence are given in recognition of the research promise demonstrated by individual postdoctoral scholars. The awards are open to postdoctoral scholars in all disciplines and are designed to assist postdoctoral scholars in their continued professional development by supporting the recipients in conference travel, purchasing books, lab materials, or engaging in other scholarly activities that directly enhance the individual’s professional growth. Each recipient receives a monetary award of a $1,000 along with a plaque.



Professors Camassa & McLaughlin, Postdoc D. Harris, and Grads M. Aminian and F.Bernardi

UNC Mathematicians publish new result at Science showing how boundaries affect chemical deliver in microfluidics

AMS Sectional Meeting

AMS held it’s Fall Southeastern Sectional Meeting on November 12-13, 2016 at North Carolina State University.  Jason Metcalfe was one of the presenters during this latest meeting.  Dr. Metcalfe’s talk was entitled:  Local energy decay for the wave equation; you can click here for his abstract.

World Maths Day

Royal Society has selected 54 mathematicians from all over the world (both past and present); take a look at the photo album on who made the list.

Peter Mucha is a Recipient of the Inaugural Outstanding Postdoc Mentor Award

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is pleased to announce recipients of the Inaugural Outstanding Postdoc Mentor Award:

  •    Peter Mucha, Ph.D., Bowman and Gordon Gray Professor of Mathematics,

Department of Mathematics

  •  Gail Henderson, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Social Medicine
  • Aravinda de Silva, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
  • Stephanie Gupton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Cell Biology and Physiology

The award recognizes a faculty member or advisor who has engaged in exceptional mentoring of postdoctoral scholars as evidenced by the following:

  • Has advocated for postdoctoral scholars.
  • Has been accessible and provided open lines of communication to postdoctoral scholars.
  • Has created a supportive environment for research; has shown respect for the postdoctoral   scholars’ goals, and assisted them in fulfilling those goals.
  • Has provided guidance in research career and assisting the postdoctoral scholars in building a professional network through generous sharing of contacts.
  • Has demonstrated a sustained commitment to creating a productive working environment that enhances the overall postdoctoral experience.

The recipients are welcome to join us for the National Postdoctoral Appreciation Week luncheon on Friday, September 23, 2016 at noon, in the lobby of the FedEx Global Education Center.  Each recipient will be presented with a plaque in recognition of being selected as an outstanding mentor during our Annual Postdoctoral Awards for Research Excellence in November.