David Whyte studied theoretical physics as an undergraduate at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He went on to get his PhD in physics, studying foams and soap bubbles. It was at this point that Whyte says he started messing around with math and was really taken by the powerful visualizations in mathematics. On math, Whyte says, “it was the visually accessible courses that grabbed my attention. As soon as I couldn’t understand it visually it eluded my grasp.”
Inspired by the blog dvdp, Whyte decided to take his mathematical visualization game to the next level by making mathematically inspired GIFs. He creates them using an open-source sketchbook software called Processing. The software uses Processing (the language), which is inspired by BASIC and Logo, and is intended to be a first programming language for people at the intersection of visual arts and technology. I’ve never used it myself, but according to Whyte, it was pretty easy to use straight out of the box.
What’s not easy, is using the software to make kickass GIFs. In making his GIFs, Whyte has a few standard tricks he turns to. He says, “find something simple and duplicate it on a grid so that timing depends on placement on the grid. Also offsetting a simple motion based on position.” This week, I’ve been particularly mesmerized by polygon laps, below.
One that he said mathematicians might like to consider is weaving stars, below. It’s all built out of explicit translations and rotations. It may looking like mysterious infinite void, if you look under the hood it’s just linear algebra!
I’ve been looking at Whyte’s GIFs for awhile now, but since I talked to him I’ve started looking at them with a totally different eye. What are the explicit linear transformations that would give me that? And can I ask that on a linear algebra final?
Another of Whyte’s favorite visual tricks is finding clever ways to morph one object into another, like in two squares/four triangles above (which totally makes me think of all the interesting square to triangle disection problems). Whyte says he usually has an idea of what he might want to do, and then he sketches the whole thing out on paper before trying to code it.
You can step up your own GIF game by check out 17 Mathematical GIFs That Are Deeply Soothing by other people. You can follow Whyte on Twitter @beesandbombs and you can be a patron of the arts by supporting him on Patreon.