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The Binary Portrait of the Class of 2016


When Duke Professor Michael Gustafson saw the annual class photo of first-year undergraduate students, he went to work to bring the Class of 2016 into the binary age.

Gustafson, who this fall is teaching two courses with sections on binary numbers, says he always looks forward to the class photo orchestrated in front of the Lilly Library every August by Duke University Photography.  This year, looking at the 1,700 students spelling out "2016," it struck him that the binary code for the year had a special look to it.

"I have always loved those Orientation week pictures and, for whatever reason this year thought about what it might look like in binary," said Gustafson, associate professor of the practice of electrical and computing engineering.  "And I got really lucky with the way the 1's and 0's lined up.

"This is the last time the numbers will be all 1s then all 0s until 2032," he said.  "The really cool next binary number will be the class of 2048, which will be 100000000000."

The reworking was a fairly straightforward job, using the 1 and 0 from the actual photo.  But Gustafson said he needed a new background to stretch out all of the digits.  So he borrowed a 1950s photo of what is now called Lilly Library. 

The change of scale in dropping a new library in behind the class photo presented its own problems.  There's a woman standing in front of the library "who is apparently 17'5" tall," he said.

Meanwhile, here's a reminder of what the real photo looks like.  As in past years, it's been popular with undergraduates, many of whom claim to be able to identify themselves and have tagged their spot in the picture.