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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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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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Scott M. Berry, Berry Consultants

Abstract: Tiger Woods has an amazing record of winning golf tournaments. He has gained the persona of a player who is a winner, a player that when near the lead or in the lead can do whatever it takes to win. In this lecture I investigate whether in fact, he is a winner. A mathematical model is created for the ability of Tiger Woods, and all PGA Tour golfers to play 18 holes of tournament golf. The career of Tiger Woods is replayed using the mathematical model for all golfers and the results are very consistent with Tiger Woods’ actual career. The idealized Woods plays every hole the same, but with Woods’ natural variability from one hole to the next. This “Woods” plays no better or worse when he’s close to winning. Woods has not needed any additional winning dimension–only his pure golfing ability. So Woods is not a “winner” – but instead he is just a much better golfer than everyone else.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Scott Berry

​Biography: Scott M. Berry is President and Statistical Scientist at Berry Consultants. Since 2000 he has been involved in the design of more than 50 Bayesian adaptive clinical trials for pharmaceutical and medical device companies. His research interests are in Bayesian methods in clinical trials, adaptive clinical trials, Bayesian computation, and hierarchical models. He is also a world renowned sports statistician, with over 40 articles, including JASA and ESPN the Magazine. He received his PhD from Carnegie Mellon (1994) and his BS from the University of Minnesota (1990). He spent 5 years at Texas A&M University in the Statistics Department (1995-2000).

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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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