Let It Snow

Sam Kaplan, professor of mathematics at UNC Asheville, holds onto some nostalgia for the six-sided snowflakes he recalls learning to make as early as kindergarten. Now he’s written out original instructions to remind the kid in all of us how to make mathematically correct snowflakes, rather than the four-sided cut-outs that seem to re-appear each winter season.

“You start with a triangle, and even with arbitrary design decisions, the symmetry forces it into a beautiful pattern,” says the mathematician, who grew up with a home full of art thanks to his father’s work. “Math provides the structure in which art and aesthetics sit.”

The result might be as unique as the icy crystals which the paper versions mimic, and they can be just as magical, encouraging students of all ages to connect with others through displays of their work. Photos of the snowflake designs can be shared on social media using #avlsnowflake.

“It gets us out into the community to spread some seasonal cheer,” said Ivy Sugars, a senior double major in mathematics and computer science at UNC Asheville who is helping to share the snowflakes through her work with Asheville Initiative for Math. “We can take this fun memory and realize how mathematical it is.”

“When anyone is having fun, we want math to be there too,” said Kaplan. “When they are decorating their stores or homes, or playing with their kids, this is a way to get math with them. It’s still connected to fun and art, though they might have forgotten.”

Print copies of the snowflake making materials will be available starting mid-November. The design can also be downloaded online at https://math.unca.edu/asheville-initiative-mathematics.

The Asheville Initiative for Math (AIM) is active beyond the winter season too, with weekly math games and homework help through the Marvelous Math Club at Pisgah View Apartments and Klondike Apartments, in partnership with Asheville City Schools and the Housing Authority of Asheville. Each spring AIM hosts a Math Literacy Week at UNC Asheville, and this academic year are planning special activities for Pi Day on March 14.

For more information, contact UNC Asheville Professor of Mathematics Sam Kaplan at 828-232-5192 or skaplan@unca.edu.