Erica Flapan, Pomona College
Monday, September 22, 2014
Abstract: In this lecture I will give examples of mirror image symmetry in life in general and chemistry in particular. I explain why it is important to determine whether a molecule has mirror image symmetry, and discuss the differences between a geometric, chemical, and topological approach to understanding mirror image symmetry. I present various examples of molecules that are symmetric or asymmetric from different viewpoints including some of my own results about topologically asymmetric molecules. No background is necessary to understand the lecture.
Biography: Erica Flapan received her B.A. from Hamilton College in 1977 and her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1983. She was a post-doc for two years at Rice University and for one year at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She joined the faculty at Pomona College in 1986. Since 2006, she has been the Lingurn H. Burkhead Professor of Mathematics at Pomona College. In addition to teaching at Pomona College, Flapan has been teaching regularly at the Summer Mathematics Program for Women Undergraduates at Carleton College. In 2010, Flapan won the Distinguished Teaching Award from the Southern California and Nevada Section of the MAA. Then, in 2011, Flapan won the MAA’s Haimo Award for distinguished college or university teaching of mathematics. She was selected as an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
Erica Flapan’s research is in the areas of knot theory, spatial graph theory, and 3-manifolds. She is one of the pioneers of the study of the topology of graphs embedded in 3-dimensional space, and has published extensively in this area and its applications to chemistry and molecular biology. In addition to her research papers, she has published an article in the College Mathematics Journal titled “How to be a good teacher is an undecidable problem,” as well as three books. Her first book, When Topology Meets Chemistry, was published jointly by the MAA and Cambridge University Press. Her second book, Applications of Knot Theory, is a collection of articles that Flapan co-edited with Professor Dorothy Buck of Imperial College London. Most recently, Flapan co-authored an elementary textbook called Number Theory: A Lively Introduction with Proofs, Applications, and Stories with James Pommersheim and Tim Marks, published by John Wiley and Sons. She is currently at work on a new book that will be titled Knots, Molecules, and the Universe: An Introduction to Topology.