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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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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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Michael Starbird, University of Texas at Austin

Abstract: The fourth dimension sounds eerie, mysterious, and exciting; and it is. Untying knots, stealing gold bricks from closed iron safes, unfolding hypercubes and linking spheres are all part of the journey.

We are transported to this abstract domain by a powerful method of creating ideas, namely, thinking insightfully about the world that we know well. A deep understanding of the simple and familiar is the key to exploring the complex and mysterious, and the fourth dimension illustrates that principal magnificently.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Michael Starbird

Biography: Michael Starbird is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at The University of Texas at Austin and a member of UT’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers. He received his B.A. degree from Pomona College and his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has been in the Department of Mathematics of UT except for leaves including one to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey and one to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

He has received more than a dozen teaching awards including several that are awarded to only one professor at UT annually and including the Mathematical Association of America’s 2007 national teaching award. He is a popular lecturer, having presented more than a hundred invited lectures since 2000. Starbird’s books include, with co-author Edward B. Burger, the award-winning mathematics textbook for liberal arts students The Heart of Mathematics: An invitation to effective thinking and the trade book Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz: Making Light of Weighty Ideas. With David Marshall and Edward Odell he co-authored Number Theory Through Inquiry. His Teaching Company video courses in the Great Courses Series include Change and Motion: Calculus Made Clear, Meaning From Data: Statistics Made Clear, What are the Chances? Probability Made Clear, and Mathematics from the Visual World. These courses reach tens of thousands of people in the general public annually. In 1989, Starbird was UT’s Recreational Sports Super Racquets Champion.

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Dan Kalman, American University

Polynomials are among the simplest of algebraic objects, yet they are also among the most useful. And they have many remarkable properties, as Dan Kalman of American University revealed in his recent lecture on "Provincial Polynomia: Uncommon Excursions for the Seasoned Visitor" at the MAA Carriage House Conference Center.

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Andrew Granville, University of Montreal

Abstract: Primes are the building blocks from which the integers are made, and so it is of interest to understand how they are distributed. Questions abound:

How many primes are there?
How many primes are there up to a given point?
Is there a good formula that tells us what is a prime and what is not?
Is there a way to find out quickly whether a given integer is prime?
How many primes are there in certain patterns?
Do polynomials take on many prime values?
How about consecutive prime values?
How are primes spaced?

Versions of some of these questions are considered to be among the most difficult open problems in mathematics. On the other hand there has been spectacular recent progress on several of these questions. We will discuss all this and more in this lecture. 

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Andrew Granville

Biography: Andrew Granville is the Canadian Research Chair in number theory at the University of Montreal. He specializes in analytic number theory and especially properties of prime numbers. His recent research has centered around the (mathematical) notion of "pretentiousness". His awards include the Presidential Faculty Fellowship from President Clinton in 1994, and the Chauvenet Prize (from the MAA) in 2008, he gave the Erdos Memorial lecture of the American Mathematical Society, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2007.

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Rebecca Goldin, George Mason University
Tuesday, October 28, 2008 

Abstract: News increasingly depends on a careful dissection of numbers. Statistics are everywhere, from how many people lack health insurance to how to improve math education. Yet for being so prevalent, statistics are badly understood by the general public.

Mark Twain popularized the quote that "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." While this quote suggests the scary idea that statistics can be manipulated to say anything, I will argue that statistics can tell us lots of useful things when used appropriately, and that the more the media does this for us, the more educated we can be as news consumers, and the better we will be at truly evaluating risk for ourselves and others.

In this talk, I'll illustrate how the press can misuse and even abuse statistics using examples of news coverage. Since news sources are the main avenue by which the public understands many public health issues, these misguided representations of science can actually shape public policy, legislation, and individual choices. We will see why it is so important that media writers understand basic concepts from statistics, epidemiology and even toxicology. I will also show how powerful the work can be when the press goes beyond politics and morality to point out what science says, what it doesn't, and what it can't.

MAA Distinguished Lecture: Rebecca Goldin

Biography: Rebecca Goldin is a professor of mathematics at George Mason University. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard, and her PhD from MIT. She taught at University of Maryland as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow before joining George Mason in 2001. She currently serves as the Director of Research for Statistical Assessment Service (STATS), a nonprofit media education and watchdog group affiliated with George Mason. When she's not thinking about statistics in the media, she's pursuing her research interests in group actions on manifolds and symplectic geometry. Last year, Goldin won the Ruth I. Michler Memorial Prize for mathematics.

Read more about Rebecca Goldin's lecture