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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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Mary Lou Zeeman, Bowdoin College
Thursday, March 28, 2013

Abstract: The term “tipping point” describes the moment when a system suddenly changes state, with no obvious trigger other than a slowly changing environment. Tipping points are difficult to predict and difficult to reverse. Examples range from capsizing boats to fishery collapse; they include financial market crashes, the poverty trap, melting polar ice caps, shifts in ecosystems, and mood changes. A mathematical framework for understanding how tipping points can arise as bifurcations has long been in place. Pressing sustainability questions are now placing the study of tipping points in the context of policy decision support. These are driving efforts to explore the interaction between tipping and stochasticity in noisy systems. Can we extract, from measurements, indicators of resilience to tipping and early warning signs for proximity to a tipping point? We will introduce the bifurcation framework and discuss these questions in the context of applications to climate and biology.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Mary Lou Zeeman

Biography: Mary Lou Zeeman is the Wells Johnson Professor of Mathematics at Bowdoin College. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley under the supervision of Moe Hirsch; worked at the University of Texas at San Antonio for 15 years; and has held visiting positions at the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and Cornell. Her research interests range from dynamical systems to population dynamics and fisheries, neuroscience, endocrinology, and climate science.

Zeeman is also involved in several interdisciplinary initiatives focused on the health of the planet. She co-directs the Mathematics and Climate Research Network that links researchers across the U.S. and beyond to develop the mathematics needed to better understand the earth's climate (www.mathclimate.org). She helped found the Institute for Computational Sustainability based at Cornell University, and she is on the organizational teams of the worldwide Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013 initiative and Mathematics Awareness Month on Mathematics and Sustainability, April 2013.

Read more about Mary Lou Zeeman's talk


David Kung, St. Mary's College of Maryland
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Abstract: Mathematics and music seem to come from different spheres (arts and sciences), yet they share an amazing array of commonalities. We will explore these connections by examining the musical experience from a mathematical perspective. The mathematical study of a single vibrating string unlocks a world of musical overtones and harmonics-and even explains why a clarinet plays so much lower than its similar-sized cousin the flute. Calculus, and the related field of differential equations, shows us how our ears hear differences between two instruments-what musicians call timbre-even when they play the same note at the same loudness. Finally, abstract algebra gives modern language to the structures beneath the surface of Bach's magnificent canons and fugues. Throughout the talk, mathematical concepts will come to life with musical examples played by members of the National Symphony Orchestra and the speaker, an amateur violinist.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: David Kung

Biographies: Dave Kung fell in love with both mathematics and music at a very early age. More successful with one than the other, he completed three degrees from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, none in music, before joining the faculty at St. Mary's College of Maryland. Recently promoted to Professor of Mathematics, he still enjoys playing violin with students and in the local community orchestra. He has authored a variety of articles on topics in harmonic analysis and mathematics education, and is the recipient of numerous awards including the 2006 Teaching Award from the MD/VA/DC section of the MAA. His 12-lecture DVD course on mathematics and music will be released by The Teaching Company early in 2013.

Yvonne CaruthersCellist Yvonne Caruthers is the creator and producer of a series of Connections programs: “Science and Music”, “Language and Music”, “Math and Music,” and “History and Music”. These programs have been performed at the Kennedy Center and throughout the US during the National Symphony Orchestra’s American Residencies. They have also been taped for distribution on satellite television programs. In September 2012, Caruthers undertook a week-long residency in the Tidewater region of Virginia, performing Connections programs for students in four counties. In January 2013, she presented six performances of Science and Music at the Kennedy Center. In March she will be featured with the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra in an orchestral performance of  “Math and Music.”

In addition to performing and touring with the National Symphony Orchestra, Caruthers appears in recitals throughout the Washington metropolitan area. In November, pianist Jeffery Watson joined Caruthers in a program of cello music by Frank Bridge and Benjamin Britten at Ingleside in Washington, D.C; the duo also performs in March at Church of the Redeemer, in Bethesda, Maryland.

Caruthers lectures several times a year on musical topics for both the Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian, and regularly collaborates with noted videographer Thom Wolf on films about music.

Aaron Goldman

Aaron Goldman joined the National Symphony Orchestra as Assistant Principal Flutist in September 2006. Prior to the NSO, he was Principal Flutist of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Greater Lansing Symphony Orchestra. He has also performed with several other orchestras, including the Baltimore Symphony, the Florida Orchestra, and the Chautauqua Symphony.

As soloist, Goldman has appeared on numerous occasions with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and has been twice featured with the Chamber Orchestra of Florida. He has also performed with various chamber music ensembles, both classical and jazz, and is a member of the Halil Duo with pianist Rose Grace.

A native of Needham, Massachusetts, Goldman received his Bachelor of Music degree at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, where he studied flute with Bonita Boyd and piccolo with Anne Harrow.

Read more about David Kung's talk


​Wednesday, December 5, 2012

“I want to get weird with pi,” MAA visiting scholar James Tanton told the crowd that packed the MAA Carriage House on December 5 for the organization’s third annual Martin Gardner Celebration of Mind event.

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Karen Saxe, Macalester College
Thursday, November 1, 2012

Abstract: On November 6, 2012, voters will go to the polls to choose our next president. We vote, but how are our votes tallied to give the winner? In 1787, the Constitutional Convention established our rather unusual electoral college which necessitates an assignment of representatives to the states; how is this allocation done?

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Karen Saxe

Biography: Karen Saxe is Professor of Mathematics at Macalester College, and current Chair of the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science. After receiving her Ph.D. at the University of Oregon, she held a FIPSE post-doctoral fellowship at St. Olaf College before joining the faculty at Macalester. Her teaching skill has been recognized with the Mathematical Association of America North Central Section's Distinguished Teaching Award, and with the Macalester College Excellence in Teaching Award. She is current Editor of the MAA's Anneli Lax New Mathematical Library, and is on the editorial board of the MAA's Math Horizons. Karen has been a resource in Minnesota on redistricting, consulting with city governments, and recently served on Minnesota Citizens Redistricting Commission, created to draw congressional districts following the 2010 census. This election season semester she is team-teaching a course on Math and Democracy with a political scientist.

Read more about Karen Saxe's talk


Michael Dorff, Brigham Young University
Wednesday, October 10, 2012

“I just happen to have with me today this bucket filled with soap solution, water, and some glycerin,” Michael Dorff told listeners at the start of an MAA Carriage House lecture on October 10.

The Brigham Young University professor and director of BYU’s Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics stood in front of a table draped in plastic and crowded with skeletal Zometool creations and deconstructed Slinkies.

“This is a very hands-on presentation. I’m not sure the MAA is used to this this,” he joked. 

Used to it or not, MAA was pleased to host Dorff’s talk, entitled “Shortest Paths, Soap Films, and Minimal Surfaces.” Currently spending a sabbatical as a visiting mathematician at the MAA, Dorff is a coauthor of a book recently published by the organization.

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