I have been intrigued by patterns since a young age. At age eight, mowing the lawn at my family’s house, I was fascinated by the pattern between the cut and uncut grass. In graduate school, my first introduction to dynamical systems came from a lecture by Bob Devaney on the fractal patterns in the Julia sets arising from complex dynamics.
My obsession with the educational possibilities of the Sierpinski triangle started when I was working with teachers in a HHMI funded summer institute where we had the teachers create a multi-level Sierpinski triangle out of paper. Then with my children, I discovered that we could make the same triangles out of plastic K’NEX pieces. From this experience grew the dream of creating the world’s largest Sierpinski Triangle out of K’NEX pieces.
On April 27th 2019, we created the World’s Largest Sierpinski Triangle out of K’NEX pieces. The triangle was 180ft long and 90ft wide and was made up of 88,575 K’NEX pieces.
This Sierpinski Triangle was three times the previous record, which we had built on April 25, 2016 when I was Mathematician in Residence at the Wagner Free Institute of Science as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival.
First we did a “pre-build” at Bryn Mawr College where we constructed 1/3 of the full Sierpinski triangle. Then we did the full build of the 90 ft x 45 ft big Sierpinski triangle at the Wagner Institute. We recreated the full Sierpinski triangle a few weeks later back on the Bryn Mawr athletic field before we dis-assembled the triangle and set packs of 500 K’NEX pieces to 50 Philadelphia school teachers.
In partnership with Bryn Mawr Alumnae Jane Long, associate professor of mathematics at Stephen F. Austin State University and Mary O’Keeffe, adjunct professor of economics at Union College, we wrote an article for the journal FOCUS on the Sierpinski Triangle project as part of a larger discussion on hands-on math outreach. Additional information about these outreach activities is here.