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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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Robert Bryant, Mathematical Sciences Research Institute
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Abstract: The notion of `holonomy' in mechanical systems has been around for over one hundred years and gives insight into daily operations as mundane as steering and parallel parking and in understanding the behavior of balls (or more general objects) rolling on a surface with friction. A sample question is this: What is the best way to roll a ball over a flat surface, without twisting or slipping, so that it arrives at at given point with a given orientation?

In geometry, holonomy has turned up in many surprising ways in the last 100 years and continues to be explored as a fundamental invariant of geometric structures.

In this talk, I will illustrate the fundamental ideas in the theory of holonomy using familiar physical objects and explain how it is also related to group theory and symmetries of basic geometric objects.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Robert Bryant

​Biography: Robert Bryant is the Director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute of Berkeley, CA. A North Carolina native, he received his PhD in mathematics in 1979 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, working under Robert B. Gardner. After serving on the faculty at Rice University for seven years, he moved to Duke University in 1987, where he held the Juanita M. Kreps Chair in Mathematics until moving to the University of California at Berkeley in July 2007. He has held numerous visiting positions at universities and research institutes around the world. He visited MSRI during the 2001-02 academic year as a Clay Mathematics Visiting Professor and he was in residence at MSRI during the Fall 2003 term as a co-organizer of the program in Differential Geometry.

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Annalisa Crannell, Franklin & Marshall College
Thursday, September 23, 2010

Abstract: How do we fit a three-dimensional world onto a two-dimensional canvas? Answering this question will change the way you look at the world. We'll learn where to stand as we view a painting so it pops off that two-dimensional canvas seemingly out into our three-dimensional space. We'll explore the mathematics behind perspective paintings, which starts with simple rules and will lead us into really lovely, really tricky puzzles. For example, why do artists use vanishing points? What's the difference between 1-point and 3-point perspective? Why don't your vacation pictures look as good as the mountains you photographed? Dust off those old similar triangles, and get ready to put them to new use in looking at art!

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Annalisa Crannell

Biography: Annalisa Crannell is a Professor of Mathematics at Franklin & Marshall College and recipient, in 2008, of the MAA's Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. Her primary research is in topological dynamical systems (also known as "Chaos Theory"), but she also is active in developing materials on Mathematics and Art. Prof. Crannell has worked extensively with students and other teachers on writing in mathematics, and with recent doctorates on employment in mathematics. She especially enjoys talking to non-mathematicians who haven't (yet) learned where the most beautiful aspects of the subject lie.

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Brian Conrey, American Institute of Mathematics
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Abstract: 150 years ago B. Riemann discovered a pathway to understanding the prime numbers. But today we still have not completed his vision. I will give an introduction to Riemann's Hypothesis, one of the most compelling mathematics problems of all time, and describe some of its colorful history.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Brian Conrey

Biography: Brian Conrey is the founding Executive Director of the American Institute of Mathematics (AIM). He received his BS from Santa Clara University in 1976 and his PhD from the University of Michigan in 1980. He held a Visiting Assistant Professorship at the University of Illinois from 1980 - 1982. He received an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in 1982 and was a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) during 1982 - 1983. In 1983 he joined the faculty at Oklahoma State University, where he remained until 1997, serving as Head of Mathematics from 1991 - 1997. He received a Sloan Fellowship in 1987 and spent the year 1987-1988 at IAS. Conrey is active in outreach programs for junior high and high school students and is one of the founders of the Math Teachers' Circles program. His area of specialty is Analytic Number Theory, especially the theory of L-functions. In recent years he has become very interested in using Random Matrix Theory to model the statistical behavior of L-functions. He received the Levi Conant Prize in 2007 for his paper "The Riemann Hypothesis."

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James Stewart, University of Toronto
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Abstract: This talk explored some of the connections and analogies between mathematics and music in an attempt to explain why mathematicians tend to be musical.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: James Stewart

Biography: James Stewart is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at McMaster University and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Toronto. He received the M.S. degree from Stanford University and the Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. His research has been in harmonic analysis and his many books include a widely used series of calculus textbooks, which have been translated into a dozen languages. He was concertmaster of the McMaster Symphony Orchestra for many years and also played professionally in the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra. One of his greatest pleasures is playing string quartets. Stewart was named a Fellow of the Fields Institute in 2002 and its library is named after him. The James Stewart Centre for Mathematics was opened in 2003 at McMaster University, which awarded him an honorary D.Sc.

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Florian Potra, University of Maryland Baltimore County

Abstract: Robots have been with us for only half a century, but the idea of man made mechanisms that can work and think goes back to ancient civilizations. The lecture presents the most important historical developments in robotics, emphasizing its interplay with mathematics. The first part of the lecture summarizes the pioneering work of Heron of Alexandria, Philo of Byzantium, Al-Jazari, Leonardo da Vinci, and other scientists up to the twentieth century. The second part is dedicated to artificial intelligence and the mathematical tools involved. The lecture concludes with the latest developments in robotics, and presents some open research problems in engineering, computer science, and mathematics, that need to be solved in order to fulfill the long standing promises of robotics.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Florian Potra

Biography: Florian Potra earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Bucharest, Romania. After an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh, he joined the faculty of the University of Iowa, first as an Associate Professor of Mathematics, and then as a Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science. Between 1997-1998, he served as a Program Director in Applied and Computational Mathematics at the National Science Foundation. Since 1998 he has been a Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He is also a Faculty Appointee at the Mathematical and Computational Sciences Division of The National Institute of Standards and Technology. Dr. Potra has published over 120 research papers in prestigious professional journals. He is the Regional Editor for the Americas of the journal "Optimization Methods and Software", and serves on the editorial board of three other well known mathematical journals.

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