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mosaic image of Rotunda

See Also: Earlier Students Offer Their Takes on the Rotunda.


May 29, 2002

By Joanna Gluckman

Life imitates art, but does art imitate computer science? This spring, students in David Evans' new Computer Science 200 course used their computer skills to turn Mr. Jefferson’s Rotunda into a digital work of art.

The result is intriguing. From afar, the images appear to be photographs of the Rotunda. But a closer look reveals a complex arrangement of tiny photos patterned to create a new vision of the historic landmark.

Evans' students used divide-and-conquer, problem-solving techniques to produce the artwork, developing computer programs to transform digital images into a complex mosaic by matching the colors of small photographs with the layout of a larger image.

To do this, they used Scheme, an "elegant, simple language," according to Evans, that descended from LISP, a computer language originally developed for artificial intelligence.
The assignment gave students a chance to incorporate many concepts of computer science in one project.

"We started with the photomosaic project," said Jacques Fournier, a second-year major in economics and mathematics from Phoenix. "Then, we improved the program. We came up with a 'greedy algorithm' that would choose the pictures without using the same ones over and over, which improved the look of the photomosaic."

Offered for the first time this spring, CS 200 was developed with a University Teaching Fellowship. The course is geared for students with no prior background in computing, but, unlike CS 110, is not a computer literacy course. Evans' course introduces students to the underlying principles of computer science and programming, and exposes them to concepts useful in a range of disciplines.

"Dave has keyed into a conceptual method of instruction that not only teaches programming skills, but also creates greater knowledge of the fundamental concepts that drive computer science," said Shawn O'Hargen, a fourth-year major in cognitive science from The Woodlands, Texas.

Evans believes that an understanding of computer science offers a broad array of intellectual benefits.

"Computer science is a precise way of thinking about how to solve problems," Evans said. "Courses like CS 200 should be a staple of any liberal arts education."

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