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Past MAA Distinguished Lectures

Zvezdelina Stankova
6:30 PM - May 31, 2016

MAA Carriage House

1781 Church St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036

Abstract: Whether designing the new tile pattern in your kitchen backsplash, trying to avoid bad investment sequences, or simply counting all possible paths from your home to work that do not cross over the local river, inescapably you are venturing into the realm of restricted patterns.

In this talk, we shall discuss several paths of pattern-exploration, and think about whether or not there is a "true" way of approaching pattern-avoidance equivalence and ordering among the array of generated ideas and methods. No matter what your math background is, you will find your own path between realistic visualization and abstract thinking, and perhaps, you will fall in love with one of our open problems.

Biography: Professor Zvezdelina Stankova (Zvezda) was drawn into the world of mathematics when, as a 5th grader, she joined the math circle at her school in Bulgaria. Three months later she won the Regional Math Olympiad. Zvezda represented her home country at two International Mathematical Olympiads (IMOs), earning silver medals.

As a freshman at Sofia University, Zvezda won a competition to study in the U.S. where she completed her undergraduate degree at Bryn Mawr College in 1993. Zvezda completed her first math research in enumerative combinatorics at two summer programs in Duluth, Minnesota. The resulting papers contributed to her Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Woman, awarded by the Association for Women in Mathematics. In 1997, Zvezda received a Ph.D. from Harvard University, with a thesis on moduli spaces of curves, in the field of algebraic geometry. She also earned a high school teaching certificate in Massachusetts, and later, in California. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and UC Berkeley in 1997-1999, Zvezda co-founded the Bay Area Mathematical Olympiad and created the Berkeley Math Circle (BMC). She trained the U.S. national team for the IMOs for six years, including the memorable year of 2001 when three of the six team members were BMCers, and the U.S. tied with Russia for second overall in the world. Since 1999, Zvezda has worked at Mills College in Oakland, CA. Starting in the fall of 2016, she will be joining the Math Department at UC Berkeley.

Zvezda’s inspiring style and passion to teach were recognized by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA): in 2004 she received the first Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Beginning College or University Mathematics Faculty Member. In 2011 MAA honored her with the highest math teaching award in the U.S., the Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. Individuals who receive this award are recognized for their teaching effectiveness and for their influence beyond their own institutions. Zvezda was featured in the Salutes Program of the ABC 7 News in spring 2011. In 2012, she was listed in Princeton’s Review of "300 Best Professors."

In 2015-2016, Zvezda introduced a new middle school math program based on a new textbook series, which she translated, adapted, and co-authored. Zvezda’s most enduring passion remains working at the BMC with young students motivated to discover new mathematical wonders. She spends a lot of time with her daughter and son, studying with them foreign languages and playing the piano, and teaching them mathematics the “Bulgarian’’ way.

If you want to read more about Zvezdelina Stankova's lecture, click here.

If you want to watch a video summary of Zvezdelina Stankova's lecture, click here.

Thomas Hull
6:30 PM - November 10, 2015

MAA Carriage House

1781 Church St.
Washington, D.C. 20036

Abstract: Origami, the art of paper folding, has been practiced in Japan and all over the world for centuries. The past decade, however, has witnessed a surge of interest in using origami for science. Applications in robotics, airbag design, deployment of space structures, and even medicine and bioengineering are appearing in the popular science press. Videos of origami robots folding themselves up and walking away or performing tasks have gone viral in recent years. But if the art of paper folding is so old, why has there been an increase in origami applications now? One answer is because of mathematics. Advances in our understanding of how folding processes work has arisen due to success in modeling origami mathematically. In this presentation we will explore why origami lends itself to mathematical study and see some of the math that has allowed applications to become so fruitful.

Biography: Thomas Hull, an Associate Professor of mathematics at Western New England University, is considered a leading expert on origami mathematics as well as an accomplished paper folder. He has written origami instruction books, numerous origami-math research papers, and authored Project Origami (AK Peters/CRC Press), a book on incorporating the mathematics of paper folding into college-level math classes. He received his Ph.D. in graph theory from the University of Rhode Island, and his research papers on origami-math were helpful in generating interest in the subject during the 1990s. He has been invited to speak on origami-math to audiences all over the USA as well as Japan, Puerto Rico, and Europe. His most popular origami creations are the PHiZZ unit, which has infected the fingers of procrastinators world-wide, and the Five Intersecting Tetrahedra model, which was voted by the British Origami Society as one of the top 10 origami models of all-time. Visit his web page at

If you want to read more about Thomas Hull's lecture, click here.

Douglas N. Arnold
6:30 PM - October 29, 2015

MAA Carriage House

1781 Church St.
Washington, D.C. 20036

Abstract: Mathematics is everywhere, and the golf course is no exception. Many aspects of the game of golf can be illuminated or improved through mathematical modeling and analysis. We will discuss a few examples, employing mathematics ranging from simple high school algebra to computational techniques at the frontiers of contemporary research.

Biography: Douglas N. Arnold is the McKnight Presidential Professor of Mathematics at the University of Minnesota. He is a research mathematician and educator specializing in computational mathematics. He also has a strong interest in mathematics in interdisciplinary research and in the public understanding of the role of mathematics.

Arnold's research interests include numerical analysis, partial differential equations, mechanics, and in particular, the interplay between these fields. From 2001 through 2008, he served as director of the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications. Under his leadership, this interdisciplinary mathematical research institute grew to be the largest mathematics research investment in the history of the National Science Foundation.

Arnold received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Chicago and in the following years served on the faculty of the University of Maryland and Penn State University before moving to the University of Minnesota and assuming the position of Director at the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications.

Among Arnold's priorities are efforts to increase public understanding of mathematics and its role in society, and he is frequently cited in print and broadcast media. In 2007 he coauthored an award winning video, Möbius Transformations Revealed, which went viral on YouTube, garnering about two million views.

Read more about Douglas Arnold's lecture here.

Judy Walker
6:30 PM - September 17, 2015

MAA Carriage House

1781 Church St.
Washington, D.C. 20036

Abstract: How do we ensure security in internet communications, for example, when using a credit card to make an online purchase? How do we efficiently transmit or store data, such as satellite pictures from outer space or music on a CD, in such a way that we can reliably read that data even in the presence of noise, such as electronic interference or a scratch or dust? In this talk, we will see that the answers to both of these questions hinge on beautiful mathematics that was once thought to be too abstract to be of any practical use.

Biography: Judy Walker received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and both her master's degree and her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has been at the University of Nebraska Lincoln since 1996, and currently serves as Aaron Douglas Professor and Chair of the Department of Mathematics there. She spent much of the fall 2011 semester as a Visiting Professor at Centre Interfacultaire Bernoulli, EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland as part of a special program in her research area of coding theory. Among her invited lectures are the AMS-MAA Joint Invited Address at the 2013 MathFest in Hartford, CT and a plenary lecture at the 2015 SIAM Conference on Applied Algebraic Geometry in Daejeon, South Korea. Walker is a co-founder of the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics and has served as an elected member of the AWM Executive Committee and the AMS Council. She has won several teaching awards, including the Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award from the MAA and the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award from the University of Nebraska system. She served as the MAA's Polya Lecturer for 2009-2011 and is a Fellow of the AMS.

To read about Judy Walker's lecture, click here.

Judith V. Grabiner
6:30 PM - June 16, 2015

MAA Carriage House
1781 Church St.
Washington, D.C. 20036

Abstract: Euclid’s Elements is the most influential textbook in the history of western civilization, serving as a model of reasoning not only in mathematics but in philosophy, theology, and politics. But Euclid’s geometry rests on assumptions, and one of the assumptions—even from the beginning—didn’t seem self-evident. People kept trying to prove that assumption, and the ways they tried tell us a lot about the relationship between mathematics and society. Meanwhile, the unchallenged authority of the Euclidean ideal was used by people like Newton, Voltaire, Euler, and Lagrange to support the Enlightenment world view.

But in the nineteenth century, suddenly there were new non-Euclidean geometries. They challenged the authority of mathematics, undermined received ideas in philosophy and culture, and had a hand in the birth of modernism. Changes came not only from people like Gauss, Lobachevsky, Helmholtz, and Einstein, but also artists and philosophers. Looking at all of this will illustrate both how culture helps shape mathematics and how mathematics has shaped the modern world.

Frank Morgan - Photo by Jeff Bauer of CitcoBiography: Judith V. Grabiner is the Flora Sanborn Pitzer Professor of Mathematics at Pitzer College and an acclaimed historian of mathematics. The author of three books and many articles on the history of mathematics, Grabiner won the Mathematical Association of America’s 2014 Beckenbach Book Prize for A Historian Looks Back: The Calculus as Algebra and Selected Writings. She is an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society and recipient of the MAA's Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics, given to teachers whose influence reaches beyond their own institutions. She is the only four-time winner of the MAA’s Lester R. Ford Award for best article in American Mathematical Monthly. Grabiner’s numerous other awards include the Distinguished Teaching Award of the Southern California Section of the MAA and the Outstanding Professor Award from California State University, Dominguez Hills. She taught a DVD course on Mathematics, Philosophy and the “Real World” for The Great Courses lifelong learning company. Professor Grabiner earned her BS in mathematics at the University of Chicago and her PhD in the history of science from Harvard University. She has taught at UC Santa Barbara, Cal Sate L. A., UCLA, Pomona College, and Cal State Dominguez Hills before coming to Pitzer in 1985, and has been a visiting scholar at the Universities of Leeds, Edinburgh, Cambridge, and Copenhagen.

Click here to read more about Judith V. Grabiner's lecture.