Dept. of Computer Science to Celebrate Pi Day with ‘Pi Your Professor’ Fundraiser

February 28, 2017


Pi Your Prof logo-01The UNC Department of Computer Science will celebrate Pi Day this year by hosting a “Pi Your Professor” fundraiser to support CS student clubs and initiatives.

Comp Sci students can buy a ticket for $10 to lob a “pi” at a professor. If they’re willing to have a pie thrown back at them, they get an extra ticket. Faculty who make a donation of $100 can throw an unlimited number of pies back at their students.

Pi Your Professor will take place at 12 noon on March 8, outside of the Fred Brooks Building. For safety reasons, the “pies” will be whipped cream on a paper plate.

“Unfortunately, this year’s Pi Day (March 14) is during Spring Break,” said external relations manager, Gina Rozier. “We’re going to celebrate a little early and send students and faculty off with a lot of fun. And for those who prefer to eat their pie rather than wear it, we’ll have apple, blueberry, cherry and pecan pie available to purchase by the slice.”

More than one-third of the department’s professors agreed to be pi’ed, including Kevin Jeffay, Gillian Cell Distinguished Professor and department chair, who was the first to sign up. Students who want to pi the chair can purchase a special ticket for $15.

The fundraiser is the brainchild of the department’s alumni relations coordinator, Alden Sharpe. The goal, Sharpe said, is to build on the strong relationships faculty and students already share, and to encourage students to give back so the department can continue to fund student programs in the future.

The Dept. of Computer Science supports 17 graduate and undergraduate student clubs and initiatives, including the Computer Science Student Association, WiCS (Women in Computer Science), BLiCS (the black and latinx CS club), e-sports and Girls Who Code chapters, an Entrepreneur’s club and others. The department provides a small stipend for club expenses throughout the year and underwrites the cost of major events like HackNC and Pearl Hacks through Corporate Partner donations and alumni gifts.

“Clubs and events are one of the ways we keep students connected,” said Jeffay. “Computer Science is a challenging major, so we make a concerted effort to create a supportive, family environment. We know our students work hard; we try to make sure they have fun as well.”

Pi Your Professor will be live tweeted @UNCCS, #uncpiyourprof. For more information about the event, contact Gina Rozier at


About Pi Day

Pi Day is the annual, national celebration of the mathematical constant, pi, which is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. The first significant digits of pi are 3.14, so the holiday falls on March 14.

Tar Heel Reader Reaches 10 Million Books Read

December 19, 2016


Gary Bishop and Karen Erickson
Tar Heel Reader creators Gary Bishop and Karen Erickson

Chapel Hill, NC—Tar Heel Reader, an online program that helps students with disabilities learn to read independently, reached 10 million books read on January 7 at 7:35 p.m. The site, which was created by Karen Erickson of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies and Gary Bishop of the Department of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, reached the 10 million milestone less than a decade after its launch.

Tar Heel Reader is an online collection of free, easy-to-read and accessible books on a wide range of topics. The site was built to fight illiteracy among underserved populations, including those with disabilities that make it difficult to learn to read using traditional books and learning methods. Each book on Tar Heel Reader can be speech enabled and accessed using multiple types of interfaces, including touch screens, the IntelliKeys keyboard and 1 to 3 assistive switches that function like standard buttons.

“A child learning to read in a kindergarten class has access to entire libraries of books that are written for beginning readers and have subject matter interesting to a child,” said Erickson, director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. “An older student learning to read, however, may have trouble finding a book for beginning readers about an interesting subject, and a student with a physical disability may not have the motor function to turn pages while reading.”

In 2008, Bishop, professor and associate chair for academic affairs in the Department of Computer Science in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences, worked with Erickson to build Tar Heel Reader as a way for users to create beginner-level books aimed at older children and adolescents with disabilities.

“Wow,” one testimonial begins, “my 9-year-old has already opened his Tar Heel Reader library via a touch screen and, perhaps for the first time ever, been able to choose independently among many choices of real, interesting books he wants to read and can read.”

The Tar Heel Reader site grew organically by word of mouth and through educational conferences. Erickson recalled, “Within months of launching Tar Heel Reader, I began to see it featured at conferences as a powerful teaching tool, and the people talking about it had no connection to UNC.

“Now, I go to these conferences and see vendor booths with signs that advertise, ‘This product works with Tar Heel Reader,’” Erickson said. “How great is that?”

reader-mapAlthough Tar Heel Reader was originally built for older children and adolescents with disabilities in the United States, the site’s ease of use has made it a popular choice for a variety of language teachers and students across the world. The library now contains more than 50,000 books in 27 languages and has been accessed by users in more than 200 countries and territories.

Tar Heel Reader has been visited more than three million times by more than one million unique users. The site sees an average of 700 unique visitors each day. It took Tar Heel Reader users about one thousand days to reach 2 million books read after the site launched in 2008, and it has only taken another 2,500 days to reach 10 million.

“I’m a programmer, so I’m an optimist,” Bishop said, “but I’m amazed by how far-reaching Tar Heel Reader has become. If you search ‘Tar Heel Reader’ on YouTube, you can find videos explaining in German how to set up Tar Heel Reader with a switch. There are even demonstrations that use puppets and stop motion video to explain the process.”
The UNC Department of Computer Science website has a real-time counter on the front page that updates as readers across the world finish books.

The 10 millionth book read, WW II: Women Working, is about women who entered the workforce during World War II, and features historical photos from the Library of Congress. The book was written in June 2009, by user PennyR, who was one of the site’s first 10 authors.

Visit to view the countdown, learn more about Tar Heel Reader, and add to the collection with a book of your own.


UNC CS Featured at IEEE VR 2016 Conference — Two of four papers presented win awards

April 3, 2016

Ming Lin was the keynote speaker at the IEEE VR Conference on March 19, 2016. Lin’s talk, “Towards Immersive Multimodal Display: Interactive Auditory Rendering for Complex Virtual Environments” presented an overview of recent work on interactive auditory display, consisting of sound synthesis and sound propagation. Lin also presented new techniques on cross-modal interaction for VR that greatly improve the state of the art in sound rendering.


Doctoral student Peter Lincoln demonstrates a head-tracked augmented reality display presented at IEEE VR 2016.

UNC CS faculty and grad students presented four papers at the conference – more than any other university. Two of the papers won awards.

Best Paper went to “From Motion to Photons in 80 Microseconds: Towards Minimal Latency for Virtual and Augmented Reality” presented by Peter Lincoln, Alex Blate, Montek Singh, Turner Whitted, Andrei State, Anselmo Lastra and Henry Fuchs.

The paper described an augmented reality, see-through, dot matrix display with an extremely fast update rate mounted in a head-tracked rig. Augmented reality displays allow for the overlay of graphics on the user’s environment. This display tracks the user’s physical environment smoothly and with very low latency. A video demonstration can be found on Lincoln’s YouTube page.

Best Paper Honorable Mention was awarded to “Interactive Coupled Sound Synthesis-Propagation using Single Point Multipole Expansion” presented by Atul Rungta, Carl Schissler, Ravish Mehra, Chris Malloy, Ming Lin and Dinesh Manocha.

The GAMMA group demonstrated its technique for coupled sound synthesis-propagation using virtual environments in a cathedral, a Tuscan villa, and a research lab.

Where existing sound simulation research has focused on either sound synthesis (creating sound using computers) or sound propagation (simulating sound as it moves through an environment), this paper presented a technique that couples synthesis and propagation to support dynamic sources, listeners, and directivity simultaneously. For more information on this paper, including a video demonstration using the Unity game engine, visit

The department’s other papers included:

  • “Interactive and Adaptive Data-Driven Crowd Simulation”
    Presented by: Sujeong Kim, Aniket Bera, Andrew Best, Rohan Chabra, Dinesh Manocha
  • “Efficient HRTF-based Spatial Audio for Area and Volumetric Sources”
    Presented by: Carl Schissler, Aaron Nicholls, Ravish Mehra

For more information about the conference visit the IEEE VR Conference website.