Out of 10,000 Entrants, Linden Grade 12 Students Earn Top Honours in Global Math Art Contest
Maya Thompson-Leonardelli and Linden teacher Sang celebrate her work and award.
More than 10,000 students from all over the world entered the 2021 Desmos Math Art Contest. Last week, they announced the winners: Maya Thompson-Leonardelli was awarded second prize for her work “Earth Woman” which the judges deemed “a spellbinding art masterpiece.” Kailah Kilfoyle placed in the top 20. Both are in Sang Lee’s Grade 12 Advanced Functions class.
Their challenge was to make art using a graphing calculator — which is not a simple task. Every single line in the drawing is created using a unique mathematical equation.
“I sought to recreate a piece of art that I could make beautiful with my own work. I did not pick a beautiful landscape or even a particularly beautiful person because I wanted to challenge myself to give the art its beauty through the math I created.” —Kailah Kilfoyle
“A graphing calculator has the same function as a normal calculator,” explains Maya. “If you enter an equation you will get an answer. It will also generate a line for each equation you enter. There are so many possibilities!”
“Graphing calculators can also make other forms of art such as animations or music,” she said. “I approached it as a visual art challenge. We had done similar, simpler assignments in class. I decided to really push myself to see how complicated and creative I could make a design using this method.”
The students’ creations involved a lot of painstaking work, trial and error, and many late nights over several weeks. “Every hair on his head, every wrinkle on his skin, every colour is a different equation or colour code,” said Kailah.
“I had to play around with equations to get the lines exactly as I wanted them, and make sure that the angles were right,” concurred Maya. “The cheekbones were especially challenging.”
Maya and Kailah benefited from the tips shared by Sang on Google Classroom about animation and colour.
Although Maya had a clear idea of what she wanted to create, sometimes the math inspired her to go in a new direction. “I had a good base: a woman’s face,” she said. “From there I asked myself what lines I could make with the different types of functions. For example, the hair is made up of sine and cosine functions, because I wanted to make use of the wavy lines.”
Maya’s favourite details are the rainbows prisms in her eyes, “partly because it’s subtle,” she said. “I used different triangles of low opacity layered on top of each other.”
Maya was grounded throughout the process, staying true to herself and focusing on excellence. “I tried not to compare myself to past entries so I wouldn’t hinder my own creativity. After I submitted my entry I felt really good about it. I knew that this was the best thing I could create. I was less concerned about how I would place and more focused on the fact that I really liked how it looked. But I did want to do well!”
Maya almost didn’t open the email from Desmos, assuming it was an ad! “I was so excited!” she said. “I immediately told my parents, and emailed Sang!” She will receive merchandise and a US$250 cash prize.
Sang struggled to contain his pride and excitement. “Sometimes a simple recognition or the celebration of an accomplishment doesn’t do justice to the amount of work that someone has put into that achievement,” he said. ”These are the words that come to mind when I think about Maya’s and Kailah's accomplishments. The endless nights that Maya and Kailah worked on their projects led to their success. I am extremely proud of them, and I can’t even imagine the amount of hard work, dedication, persistence, and perseverance that went into completing their entries. I can’t wait to see what they will accomplish in the future.”
“I hope Maya’s and Kailah's success can motivate all other Linden students who study and work into the wee hours of the night who have not been recognized yet. I know that one day, your hard work will be recognized as well.”