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Mathematics in Mosaics

Ronquillo showing an equation to the audience.

By Leah Spoolstra – Collegiate staff

The math department at Grand Rapids Community College kicked off the school year with a lecture titled “An Investigation of Angles, Polygons and Mosaics,” which introduced how art can be incorporated into math.

On Thursday, Javier Ronquillo led the discussion with intentions to get students excited about art and mathematics. When he was in high school, Ronquillo trained for the international math Olympics, which is what opened him up to new mathematical concepts and how the shapes relate to art. After finishing his undergrad in Guatemala City in 2013, this year Ronquillo will receive his doctorate of philosophy in topological groups from Ohio University. Then, he hopes to research pure mathematics and share his discoveries

Ronquillo wanted to demonstrate how students can be curious about math and its applications.

“I want to remind us that math also has a part that can make us be curious, can make us ask questions, and can make us be open to the world and see it in total so that we can investigate,” Ronquillo said. “I am going to give some answers, but I want to stress the importance of allowing ourselves to ask questions and to be curious about things because that inquiry, wherever (the students) are, is important.”

Math lectures at GRCC originally started in 1994 and continued for four years. Then, in Feb. 2008, the math department decided to reintroduce lecture series across English, art, biology, chemistry and mathematics. These lectures are typically taught by students or professors and this year marks the 10th year that they have been occurring.

John Dersch is a math professor at GRCC and was excited for students to discuss mathematics in an informal approach.

“We hope that students get a deeper love and appreciation of mathematics,” Dersch said. “In this case, it’s going to be easier than usual because it’s essentially how mathematics relates to art and how both have a beauty in their own way.”

Students make mosaics during the lecture Leah Spools


From the beginning of the lecture, Ronquillo had students laughing and quickly got the audience excited about creating mosaics.

“What? Do you think that I’m cheating?” Ronquillo asked as he spun in a circle to demonstrate the angles in a mosaic.

The lecture was a success and engaged the audience as professors spun in chairs, students created mosaics, and Ronquillo described the importance of art.

As a math professor at GRCC, Melanie Forbes was excited to deepen her understanding of shapes and the artistic application of math.

“Math is used constantly at every little juncture,” Forbes said. “Math is not about the numbers. It’s so many other things. You have the art and the angles and in the architecture. You used math all the time.”

Fisher Pham, a GRCC student, is intrigued by math and how it applies to different studies.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the art side of mathematics,” Pham said as he finished a Rubix cube in 30 seconds. “Solving problems is a lot about the formulas and it’s something that I’m interested in.”

Ronquillo encourages students to start simple and to become curious from what they discover.

“Sometimes, it is more important to have questions than to have answers,” Ronquillo said. “If there (are) no questions, then there is nowhere to go. If you have questions, then you can keep going. As long as you are curious and open to observe things that are happening, you’ll be able to pursue knowledge.”

To watch the video of the “An Investigation of Angles, Polygons and Mosaics,” click here.

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