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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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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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David Bressoud, Macalester College

Abstract: What is the role of proof in mathematics? Most of the time, the search for proof is less about establishing truth than it is about exploring  unknown territory. In finding a route from what is known to the result one believes is out there, the mathematician often encounters unexpected insights into seemingly unrelated problems. I will illustrate this point with an example of recent research into a generalization of the permutation matrix known as the "alternating sign matrix." This is a story that began with Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), matured at the Institute for Defense Analysis, drew in researchers from combinatorics, analysis, and algebra, and ultimately was solved with insights from statistical mechanics. This talk is intended for a general audience and should be accessible to anyone interested in a window into the true nature of research in mathematics.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: David Bressoud

Biography: David Bressoud is DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics at Macalester College. He served in the Peace Corps, teaching math and science at the Clare Hall School in Antigua, West Indies before studying with Emil Grosswald at Temple University and then teaching at Penn State for 17 years, eight of them as full professor. He chaired the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Macalester from 1995 until 2001. He has held visiting positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota, Université Louis Pasteur (Strasbourg, France), and the State College Area High School.

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Rüdiger Thiele, University of Leipzig
August 8, 2007

Nowadays, the idea of function pervades mathematics, and math students readily recognize the notation f(x) as representing a function. But it took centuries for mathematicians to go from the use of algebraic expressions for describing certain curves to the general notion of formulas (or functions) as stand-alone objects of considerable mathematical interest in themselves. Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) played a fundamental role in making the function one of the central objects of mathematics.

On Aug. 8, an audience of Euler enthusiasts at the MAA's Carriage House Conference Center heard mathematician and historian Rüdiger Thiele of the University of Leipzig speak about Euler's work on functions. Thiele's lecture, titled "How Euler Changed Analysis," focused on Euler's efforts to broaden and apply the notion of a function in a variety of mathematical contexts.

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Bernd Sturmfels
May 17, 2007

Abstract: Gröbner bases are a fun method for solving algebraic equations. See how it works, why it is useful, and what you should do with the change in your pocket.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Bernd Sturmfels

Biography: Bernd Sturmfels received doctoral degrees in Mathematics in 1987 from the University of Washington, Seattle, and the Technical University Darmstadt, Germany. After two postdoctoral years at the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications, Minneapolis, and the Research Institute for Symbolic Computation, Linz, Austria, he taught at Cornell University, before joining UC Berkeley in 1995, where he is Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science. His honors include a National Young Investigator Fellowship, a Sloan Fellowship, and a David and Lucile Packard Fellowship. Sturmfels served as von Neumann Professor at TU Munich in Summer 2002, as the Hewlett-Packard Research Professor at MSRI Berkeley in 2003/04, and he was a Clay Senior Scholar in 2004. A leading experimentalist among mathematicians, Sturmfels has authored or edited 13 books and about 150 research articles, in the areas of combinatorics, algebraic geometry, symbolic computation and their applications. He currently works on algebraic methods in statistics and computational biology.

Read more about Bernd Sturmfel's talk


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