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MAA Distinguished Lecture Series

The MAA sponsors a variety of public lectures, many of them held at the MAA Carriage House. Whether a Gathering 4 Gardner event or part of the NSA-funded Distinguished Lecture Series, the lectures feature some of the foremost experts within the field of mathematics, known for their ability to make current mathematical ideas accessible to non-specialists. The presentations provide a fabulous and fun learning opportunity for both professionals and students, as well as anyone interested in learning more about current trends in mathematics and the relationship between mathematics and broader scientific, engineering and technological endeavors.

Abstracts and speaker biographies will appear on this page as lectures are added to the events calendar.

Slidecasts and video clips of MAA public lectures are available here.

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Judith V. Grabiner
6:30 PM - June 16, 2015

MAA Carriage House
1781 Church St.
Washington, D.C. 20036

This event is full. Please contact Laura McHugh ( to be put on the wait list. 

Abstract: Euclid’s Elements is the most influential textbook in the history of western civilization, serving as a model of reasoning not only in mathematics but in philosophy, theology, and politics. But Euclid’s geometry rests on assumptions, and one of the assumptions—even from the beginning—didn’t seem self-evident. People kept trying to prove that assumption, and the ways they tried tell us a lot about the relationship between mathematics and society. Meanwhile, the unchallenged authority of the Euclidean ideal was used by people like Newton, Voltaire, Euler, and Lagrange to support the Enlightenment world view.

But in the nineteenth century, suddenly there were new non-Euclidean geometries. They challenged the authority of mathematics, undermined received ideas in philosophy and culture, and had a hand in the birth of modernism. Changes came not only from people like Gauss, Lobachevsky, Helmholtz, and Einstein, but also artists and philosophers. Looking at all of this will illustrate both how culture helps shape mathematics and how mathematics has shaped the modern world.

Frank Morgan - Photo by Jeff Bauer of CitcoBiography: Judith V. Grabiner is the Flora Sanborn Pitzer Professor of Mathematics at Pitzer College and an acclaimed historian of mathematics. The author of three books and many articles on the history of mathematics, Grabiner won the Mathematical Association of America’s 2014 Beckenbach Book Prize for A Historian Looks Back: The Calculus as Algebra and Selected Writings. She is an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society and recipient of the MAA's Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics, given to teachers whose influence reaches beyond their own institutions. She is the only four-time winner of the MAA’s Lester R. Ford Award for best article in American Mathematical Monthly. Grabiner’s numerous other awards include the Distinguished Teaching Award of the Southern California Section of the MAA and the Outstanding Professor Award from California State University, Dominguez Hills. She taught a DVD course on Mathematics, Philosophy and the “Real World” for The Great Courses lifelong learning company. Professor Grabiner earned her BS in mathematics at the University of Chicago and her PhD in the history of science from Harvard University. She has taught at UC Santa Barbara, Cal Sate L. A., UCLA, Pomona College, and Cal State Dominguez Hills before coming to Pitzer in 1985, and has been a visiting scholar at the Universities of Leeds, Edinburgh, Cambridge, and Copenhagen.

Frank Morgan
6:30 PM - April 28, 2015

MAA Carriage House
1781 Church St.
Washington, D.C. 20036

Space is limited. Please register here

Abstract: Soap bubbles continue to fascinate and confound mathematicians. The show will include a little guessing contest with demonstrations, explanations, and prizes.

Frank Morgan - Photo by Jeff Bauer of CitcoBiography: Frank Morgan studies optimal shapes and minimal surfaces. He has published over 100 articles and six books, including "Calculus" and "The Math Chat Book," based on his live, call-in TV show and MAA column. Founder of the NSF "SMALL" Undergraduate Research Project, inaugural winner of the Haimo national teaching award, past vice-president of the MAA and of the AMS, he is Atwell Professor Williams College and Editor-Elect of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

Daniel Goldston
Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Abstract: Thanks to work of Zhang, Maynard, and Tao in the last two years, we now know that there are infinitely often primes that are within a bounded distance of each other. The current record on that bound is 246. These results were truly shocking to most experts who believed they were far beyond what could be proved at our current state of knowledge. And most experts still think the twin prime conjecture (that there are infinitely many pairs of primes differing by 2) is out of reach, although they are a little less vocal than before. At the same time amateurs have been churning out hopelessly wrong proofs of the twin prime conjecture for years, and continue to do so. This talk will describe some of the ideas behind the recent work on primes and why both amateurs and experts are always getting fooled by primes. 

Biography: Daniel Goldston was born on January 4, 1954, in Oakland, California. He attended the University of California Berkeley starting in 1972, receiving his Ph.D. in 1981 under the supervision of R. Sherman Lehman. He worked at the University of Minnesota Duluth for a year before spending the 1982–1983 academic year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Since 1983 he has worked at San Jose State University except for semesters spent at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1990, the University of Toronto in 1994, and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in 1999. He was awarded a 2014 Cole Prize in Number Theory as were János Pintz, Cem Y. Yıldırım, and Yitang Zhang.

Read more about Goldston's talk

Victoria Stodden
Thursday, October 23, 2014

This lecture is co-sponsored by the American Statistical Association, in celebration of its 175th anniversary.

Abstract: The 21st century will be considered the century of data. Data are being collected by virtually all scientific, educational, governmental, societal, and commercial enterprises leading to not only an explosion in the amount of data but also in the diversity, complexity, and velocity of that data. The opportunities for information and knowledge extraction from these data are enormous; however there are challenges to such information extraction at scale. In this talk I will outline several of the key challenges including the reproducibility and verifiability of statistical results, reliance on big data findings in public discourse and decision-making, and privacy considerations. I will then motivate solutions based in emerging computational tools, policy, the practice of science, and statistical methods.

Biography: Victoria Stodden is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and affiliated with Columbia University. Stodden has served on the National Academies of Science committee on "Responsible Science: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process.” She has developed software platforms (,, written many articles and recommendations (e.g. the "Reproducible Research Standard"), and testified before the Congressional House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on Scientific Transparency and Integrity. In 2014, she published two co-edited volumes, Implementing Reproducible Research (see ) and Big Data, Privacy, and the Public Good (see Stodden has a Ph.D. in statistics from Stanford University and an MLS from Stanford Law School.

Read more about Stodden's talk.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Martin Gardner (1914-2010) was a prolific writer, bringing recreational mathematics to a wide, appreciative audience over many years. Much more rare are appearances of Gardner on video. In recognition of the centennial of Gardner’s birth, this MAA “Celebration of Mind” event will feature long-lost video footage of an interview with Martin Gardner, conducted in 1994 when he received the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award. Come hear Gardner talk about his writing and see him show off some magic tricks, then hear more about Gardner from Dana Richards (George Mason University), Bill Ritchie (ThinkFun), Ivars Peterson (MAA), and Colm Mulcahy (Spelman College).

In the spirit of the gift exchange at the biennial Gathering 4 Gardner events, attendees are encouraged to bring a favorite puzzle or other small item to share with all the other attendees. Please plan on 70 copies. Each attendee will receive at the end of the event a gift packet made up of these items.

Read more about the event.