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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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Dan Kalman, American University

Polynomials are among the simplest of algebraic objects, yet they are also among the most useful. And they have many remarkable properties, as Dan Kalman of American University revealed in his recent lecture on "Provincial Polynomia: Uncommon Excursions for the Seasoned Visitor" at the MAA Carriage House Conference Center.

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Andrew Granville, University of Montreal

Abstract: Primes are the building blocks from which the integers are made, and so it is of interest to understand how they are distributed. Questions abound:

How many primes are there?
How many primes are there up to a given point?
Is there a good formula that tells us what is a prime and what is not?
Is there a way to find out quickly whether a given integer is prime?
How many primes are there in certain patterns?
Do polynomials take on many prime values?
How about consecutive prime values?
How are primes spaced?

Versions of some of these questions are considered to be among the most difficult open problems in mathematics. On the other hand there has been spectacular recent progress on several of these questions. We will discuss all this and more in this lecture. 

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Andrew Granville

Biography: Andrew Granville is the Canadian Research Chair in number theory at the University of Montreal. He specializes in analytic number theory and especially properties of prime numbers. His recent research has centered around the (mathematical) notion of "pretentiousness". His awards include the Presidential Faculty Fellowship from President Clinton in 1994, and the Chauvenet Prize (from the MAA) in 2008, he gave the Erdos Memorial lecture of the American Mathematical Society, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2007.

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Rebecca Goldin, George Mason University
Tuesday, October 28, 2008 

Abstract: News increasingly depends on a careful dissection of numbers. Statistics are everywhere, from how many people lack health insurance to how to improve math education. Yet for being so prevalent, statistics are badly understood by the general public.

Mark Twain popularized the quote that "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." While this quote suggests the scary idea that statistics can be manipulated to say anything, I will argue that statistics can tell us lots of useful things when used appropriately, and that the more the media does this for us, the more educated we can be as news consumers, and the better we will be at truly evaluating risk for ourselves and others.

In this talk, I'll illustrate how the press can misuse and even abuse statistics using examples of news coverage. Since news sources are the main avenue by which the public understands many public health issues, these misguided representations of science can actually shape public policy, legislation, and individual choices. We will see why it is so important that media writers understand basic concepts from statistics, epidemiology and even toxicology. I will also show how powerful the work can be when the press goes beyond politics and morality to point out what science says, what it doesn't, and what it can't.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Rebecca Goldin

Biography: Rebecca Goldin is a professor of mathematics at George Mason University. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard, and her PhD from MIT. She taught at University of Maryland as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow before joining George Mason in 2001. She currently serves as the Director of Research for Statistical Assessment Service (STATS), a nonprofit media education and watchdog group affiliated with George Mason. When she's not thinking about statistics in the media, she's pursuing her research interests in group actions on manifolds and symplectic geometry. Last year, Goldin won the Ruth I. Michler Memorial Prize for mathematics.

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Ruth Charney, Brandeis University
Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Abstract: Children build models with 3-dimensional cubes. Mathematicians build them with higher dimensional cubes. Many physical systems can be represented by geometric models based on cubes. Using an example from robotics, we will investigate how such models are constructed and what can we learn from their strange, but beautiful geometry.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Ruth Charney

Biography: Ruth Charney is Professor of Mathematics at Brandeis University. She received her undergraduate degree from Brandeis and her PhD from Princeton. She taught at Berkeley, Yale, and Ohio State University before returning to her alma mater in 2003. She currently serves as Chair of her department and as a Vice President of the American Mathematical Society. She was never sure whether she was a topologist or an algebraist, and is now happily immersed in geometric group theory, a combination of the two.

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George Gheverghese Joseph, University of Manchester

Mathematicians in Kerala, southern India, discovered infinite series well before their counterparts in Europe did, George Gheverghese Joseph of the University of Manchester has argued. This knowledge may even have traveled from India to Europe via Jesuit scholars, influencing European mathematics.

On Sept. 23, at the MAA's Carriage House Conference Center, Joseph spoke about "The Politics of Writing Histories of Non-Western Mathematics." In a provocative address, he cited the example of the discovery of infinite series as one instance in which possible Indian and other Asian influences on European mathematics have been neglected in the past.

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