Dr. Richard D. Jarvinen
Professor of Mathematics and Consultant
We often hear that mathematics is found everywhere. In a certain sense that is true. There is a need, however, to say that one finds mathematics where one does because someone has put it there. And I believe there is a need to emphasize that mathematics is where someone has put it, in contrast to where one finds it. A successful career in industry depends more on where one puts mathematics than it does on where one finds or observes it.
I have worked as an aerospace scientist with NASA, Remington Rand Univac, and General Electric. I have worked as a medical research statistician with the Mayo Clinic. For most of my professional career, I have been a professor, teaching mathematics, statistics, or computer science. Too often, especially in my industrial employments, I have observed (occasionally frustrated) colleagues waiting to be given mathematics in the form of a well posed problem that will be their work rather than formulating problems that need to be solved and then, themselves, putting mathematics into their work.
I have had the enjoyment and good fortune of creating various mathematical models that have provided explanations and solutions to some important real world problems. Carefully articulating a problem is the most critical aspect in resolving real world problems. Fitting an appropriate model, as vital and as creative an act as that is, is subsequent to deeply understanding what the problem truly entails. Here, fitting a model means writing the perceived problem in an appropriate language, such as the language of mathematics, statistics, or computer science.
Half of my professional hours during the past five years have been given in connection with my role as a Research Scientist at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. My NASA work has centered on reliability studies and risk assessments for the Space Shuttle program. In 1996 I received from the Director of the NASA Johnson Space Center the NASA certificate for superior accomplishment.
The award was issued for my contributions to the Space Shuttle program. Of timely importance to NASA, I did an analysis of incidents of gas paths at the nozzle-to-case joint on the thrusters of the solid rocket motors of the reusable Space Shuttle. This was for post-Challenger flights. It was a gas path that lead to the Challenger accident in early 1986. Gas path problems re-emerged on the Shuttle thrusters in years following 1986. Using a logistic regression model, I established that the gas path incidents, none of which actually lead to a serious accident, were following a worsening trend. Subsequent to my written and oral reports, NASA made adjustments that have reduced the risk of gas path occurrences, and the reliability of the Space Shuttle was increased.
I worked in the aerospace industry early in my career with both General Electric (in satellite detection and in pattern recognition) and Remington Rand Univac (in developing a missile to intercept another missile). I have also worked as a Visiting Scientist in medical research statistics at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. At General Electric, while still a graduate student, I developed an optimal searching procedure (for maximizing the probability of detecting satellites at all times during a radar search for them) for the Heavy Military Electronics Division of General Electric in Syracuse, New York. That algorithm finds general application as an optimization method in the field of operations research.
Effectively communicating ideas to colleagues in both oral and written form is critical. Here is where I believe my career as professor and my writing experiences have been assets. Teaching requires effective communication. I was honored to receive the Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics from the North Central Section of the Mathematical Association of America in 1997. Writing most definitely requires effective communication. My book, Finite and Infinite Dimensional Linear Spaces, was cited as one of the top ten books written on its subject for permanent library acquisition in a recent publication of the Mathematical Association of America. Skills in both written and oral communication are ever important to develop.
But maintaining and improving physical health also requires consistent attention. I find cross country skiing and distance running healthful and enjoyable. I have been faithful to a regimen of vigorous physical exercise most days of the year for at least the past 30 years. In February, 2000, I will participate for the 25th consecutive year in the 55-kilometer American Birkebeiner cross country ski race, a festive international event held in Wisconsin that attracts some 7000 participants.