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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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Martin Golubitsky, Ohio State University

Abstract: Regular patterns appear all around us: from vast geological formations to the ripples in a vibrating coffee cup, from the gaits of trotting horses to tongues of flames, and even in visual hallucinations. The mathematical notion of symmetry is a key to understanding how and why these patterns form. In this lecture Professor Golubitsky will show some of these fascinating patterns and explain how mathematical symmetry enters the picture. 

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Martin Golubitsky

Biography: Martin Golubitsky is Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the Ohio State University, where, beginning in September, he will serve as Director of the Mathematical Biosciences Institute. He received his PhD in Mathematics from M.I.T. in 1970 and has been Professor of Mathematics at Arizona State University and Cullen Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at the University of Houston.

Dr. Golubitsky works in the fields of nonlinear dynamics and bifurcation theory studying the role of symmetry in the formation of patterns in physical systems and the role of network architecture in the dynamics of coupled systems. His recent research focuses on some mathematical aspects of biological applications: animal gaits, the visual cortex, the auditory system, and coupled systems. He has co-authored four graduate texts, one undergraduate text, two nontechnical trade books, (Fearful Symmetry: Is God a Geometer with Ian Stewart and Symmetry in Chaos with Michael Field) and over 100 research papers.

Dr. Golubitsky is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a past President of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

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Keith Devlin, Stanford University

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Keith Devlin

Abstract: At four distinct stages in the development of modern society, mathematics (in particular, acquisition of the ability to carry out new kinds of computation) changed in a fundamental, dramatic, and revolutionary way how we humans understand the world and live our lives.

The fourth such change is taking place during our lifetime, brought about by the invention of machines that can be instructed to compute for us. The others occurred in 8,000 B.C., the 13th century, and the 17th century. I'll look at how human life and cognition changed at each of those three stages.

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Karl Rubin, UC Irvine

Abstract: Which natural numbers occur as the area of a right triangle with three rational sides?  This is a very old question and is still unsolved, although partial answers are known (for example, five is the smallest such natural number).  In this talk we will discuss this problem and recent progress that has come about through its connections with other important open questions in number theory.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Karl Rubin

Biography: Karl Rubin is the Thorp Professor of Mathematics at the University of California, Irvine.  His research deals with elliptic curves and other aspects of number theory.  Rubin attended Washington DC public schools, was a Putnam Fellow as an undergraduate at Princeton, and received his Ph.D. from Harvard.  He was a professor at Ohio State, Columbia, and Stanford before moving to UC Irvine in 2004.  Rubin received the Cole Prize in Number Theory from the American Mathematical Society, a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator award, a Humboldt Research Award, and Guggenheim and Sloan fellowships.

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Margaret H. Wright, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University

Abstract: Mathematicians believe, correctly, that they are uniquely qualified to answer complicated questions in science and engineering. But it very often happens that such problems are unsolvable or intractable in their original form. Is it acceptable to say politely "I'm sorry; this problem is impossible" and then return to answering questions that can be answered? Or should we do more? How can we do more? This talk, intended for a general audience, will describe, with examples from the speaker's experiences in optimization, how mathematicians can become local heroes after they say they're sorry.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Margaret Wright

Biography: Margaret H. Wright is Silver Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics and chair of the Computer Science Department in the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University. She received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from Stanford University. Her research interests include optimization, scientific computing, and real-world applications. Prior to joining NYU, she worked at Bell Laboratories (AT&T/Lucent Technologies) and Stanford University. She was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (1997), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2001), and the National Academy of Sciences (2005). During 1995-1996 she served as president of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM).

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Ravi Vakil, Stanford University

Abstract: Doodling has many mathematical aspects: patterns, shapes, numbers, and more.  Not surprisingly, there is often some sophisticated and fun mathematics buried inside common doodles.  Vakil will begin by doodling, and there is no telling where it could take him.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Ravi Vakil

Biography: Ravi Vakil is Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University.  He was born in Toronto, Canada, and studied at the University of Toronto, where he was a four-time winner of the Putnam competition (``Putnam Fellow'').  He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1997, and taught at Princeton and MIT before moving to Stanford in 2001.  He is an algebraic geometer, and his work involves many other parts of mathematics, including topology, string theory, applied mathematics, combinatorics, number theory, and more.  His awards include the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the American Mathematical Society Centennial Fellowship, the Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching, and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.  He works extensively with talented younger mathematicians at all levels, from high school (through math circles, camps, and olympiads), through recent Ph.D.'s.  Vakil runs a problem-solving seminar each  fall for Stanford undergraduates, involving up to 150 students, as well as a masterclass for experts.  He is also the faculty advisor to the Stanford Math  Circle. You can read more at Prof. Vakil's Home Page.

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