Scientists Create Software that Turns Complex Math Equations into Images

The new math tool will help students and professors alike to make sense of the abstract versions.
Fabienne Lang

Remember learning math equations at school? They looked like riddles made up of numbers, letters, Greek symbols, and a bunch of squiggles that made no sense but that you had to understand in order to pass on to the next grade.

Luckily for the new generation of math learners, computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S. have created a software tool that easily turns complicated math equations into simple images and diagrams.



The team called the new software tool "Penrose" after the famed mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose, who has worked with the likes of Stephen Hawking. 

The Penrose tool goes further than regular graphing calculator capabilities. It can be used for simple equations as well as complex relationships from almost every part of math. 

"Some mathematicians have a talent for drawing beautiful diagrams by hand, but they vanish as soon as the chalkboard is erased," Keenan Crane, an assistant professor of computer science and robotics, said in a statement. "We want to make this expressive power available to anyone."

The team built a brand new programming language for encoding instructions on Penrose and turned to diagram-drawing experts to put together the underlying logic of the program. So the computer program crunches the numbers after the user has input familiar mathematical language, or equations. 

Scientists Create Software that Turns Complex Math Equations into Images
The new software tool from Carnegie Mellon University creates math diagrams, Source: CMU

To explain how the team achieved this, Katherine Ye, a Ph.D. student in the Computer Science Department at CMU said "We started off by asking: 'How do people translate mathematical ideas into pictures in their head?'"

Ye continued "The secret sauce of our system is to empower people to easily 'explain' this translation process to the computer, so the computer can do all the hard work of actually making the picture."

Once the user's put in their preference of how the visualization will look, they can then choose from either a Venn diagram, a 3D Venn diagram, trees, vector points with arrows, points displayed as dots, or continuous lines. Then the computer offers a few options for the user to select and edit their preferred one. 

The tool will be available from July onwards, after the team has presented it at the SIGGRAPH 2020 Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, which will be held virtually this year.

Math made simple, sign us up!

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