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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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Kevin McCurley, Google

Abstract: The process of applying mathematics to the real world is undergoing a radical change through our ability to gather data at a massive scale. This is particularly true at Google, where we routinely process petabytes of human language, and interact with many millions of users. In this talk I'll describe some surprising realizations that arose from this data while trying to improve part of our search quality. It turns out that everything I thought I knew about similarity was wrong, and I should have been talking to psychologists.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Kevin McCurley

​Biography: Kevin McCurley is a Research Scientist at Google, where he has worked since 2005. He previously held positions at IBM Almaden Research Center, Sandia National Laboratories, and University of Southern California. He has published in the areas of information retrieval, algorithms, parallel computing, cryptography, and number theory.

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Tony DeRose, Pixar 

Abstract: Film making is undergoing a digital revolution brought on by advances in areas such as computer technology, computational physics, geometry, and approximation theory. Using numerous examples drawn from Pixar's feature films, this talk will provide a behind the scenes look at the role that math plays in the revolution.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Tony DeRose

Biography: Tony DeRose is currently a Senior Scientist and lead of the Research Group at Pixar Animation Studios. He received a BS in Physics in from the University of California, Davis, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley. From 1986 to 1995 Dr. DeRose was a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. In 1998, he was a major contributor to the Oscar winning short film "Geri's game", in 1999 he received the ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award, and in 2006 he received a Scientific and Technical Academy Award for his work on surface representations.

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Frank Farris, Santa Clara University

Abstract: What if the universe had an edge? Since “universe” is construed to indicate “all that is,” such an edge would have to be inaccessible, “infinitely far away.”

In this talk, we travel to a hypothetical universe, whose inhabitants, along with all the matter they use to measure their space, shrink as they approach the edge. In this shrinking-ruler universe, that boundary is indeed inaccessible.

The picture of what we call “hyperbolic wallpaper” helps us imagine this cosmos: In the world of the shrinking ruler, all of the peacock fans are exactly the same distance across. All of them. And there are infinitely many copies hidden down there near the edge, unseen by our outsider eyes.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Frank Farris

​Biography: Frank Farris completed a five-year term as editor of Mathematics Magazine in 2005 and now serves again through 2009, aspiring to continue its tradition of challenging and inspiring teachers and students of mathematics at the undergraduate level. A native Californian, Frank did his undergraduate work at Pomona College and received his Ph.D. from M.I.T. in 1981. Awards include a Trevor Evans Award for his article “The Edge of the Universe” in Math Horizons and the David E. Logothetti Teaching Award at Santa Clara University, where he has taught since 1984.

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Robert J. Lang

Abstract: The last decade of this past century has been witness to a revolution in the development and application of mathematical techniques to origami, the centuries-old Japanese art of paper-folding. The techniques used in mathematical origami design range from the abstruse to the highly approachable. In this talk, I will describe how geometric concepts led to the solution of a broad class of origami folding problems – specifically, the problem of efficiently folding a shape with an arbitrary number and arrangement of flaps, and along the way, enabled origami designs of mind-blowing complexity and realism, some of which you’ll see, too. As often happens in mathematics, theory originally developed for its own sake has led to some surprising practical applications. The algorithms and theorems of origami design have shed light on long-standing mathematical questions and have solved practical engineering problems. I will discuss examples of how origami has enabled safer airbags, Brobdingnagian space telescopes, and more.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Robert Lang

​Biography: Robert J. Lang is recognized as one of the foremost origami artists in the world as well as a pioneer in computational origami and the development of formal design algorithms for folding. With a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Caltech, he has, during the course of work at NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Spectra Diode Laboratories, and JDS Uniphase, authored or co-authored over 80 papers and 45 patents in lasers and optoelectronics as well as 8 books and a CD-ROM on origami. He is a full-time artist and consultant on origami and its applications to engineering problems but moonlights as the Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Journal of Quantum Electronics. In 2009 he was awarded Caltech’s highest honor, the Distinguished Alumni Award for his work in origami.

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Edward Belbruno, Princeton University

Early in the history of the solar system, the theory goes, an object the size of Mars collided with Earth, and the massive, glancing impact produced the ejected material that formed into the Moon. But where did this object come from?

In his recent presentation at the MAA's Carriage House Conference Center, mathematician Edward Belbruno explained how he and Princeton colleague J. Richard Gott III developed a plausible answer to that question. In what Belbruno described as a "math talk with engineering in it," he ranged from chaotic dynamics and celestial mechanics to cataclysmic collisions, random walks, and space travel.

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