Unique mathematics costume for Brussels icon designed by VUB mathematicians

Belgium’s most famous statue is today dressed as “Manneken Pisthagoras”, in honour of Pi Day, celebrated each year on 14 March or 3.14. His costume is the creation of postdoctoral researchers Dr Ann Kiefer and Dr Leo Margolis of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel Mathematics Department: “With ‘Manneken Pisthagoras’ we hope to put mathematics on the map at home and abroad.”

Dr Kiefer: “Manneken Pis has more than 1,000 costumes that refer to the most diverse themes. But there’s not a single costume about mathematics, which occupies an important place in our daily lives. Mathematics is the basis of the sciences and pioneering technologies such as AI. To increase interest in this field of study, we created the very first maths suit for Manneken Pis. With designer Julie Dekezel, we created a costume that symbolises a cross between Pythagoras and Brussels student life. All this with a nod to VUB and to Belgium. The result is Manneken Pisthagoras.”

An ode to maths and Brussels

The initiators drew inspiration for the outfit from the Greek mathematician Pythagoras, known as the father of geometry, whose theorem is part of the curriculum. The costume consists of a white-purple toga, and the choice of purple as an accent colour next to white – typical for Antiquity – is not accidental: it is the colour of VUB’s faculty of sciences. A turban was chosen for the headgear, referring to Pythagoras’ frequent trips to Babylon. The turban rests on a “klak”, the typical student cap, often decorated with buttons and slogans. The klak in front of Manneken Pis will feature buttons about Brussels and mathematics.

As a final part of the outfit, the mathematicians developed, with Nicolas De Coster of FabLab ULB, an accessory illustrating the Pythagorean theorem: a plane with a triangle on it. On each side of the triangle is a square. The squares on the two short sides are filled with water. The construction regularly turns 180°, causing the water to overflow from the two squares and completely fill the third, and largest, square.