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Past MAA Distinguished Lectures

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.


Frank Morgan
6:30 PM - April 28, 2015

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

Space is limited. Please register here

Abstract: Soap bubbles continue to fascinate and confound mathematicians. The show will include a little guessing contest with demonstrations, explanations, and prizes.

Frank Morgan - Photo by Jeff Bauer of CitcoBiography: Frank Morgan studies optimal shapes and minimal surfaces. He has published over 100 articles and six books, including "Calculus" and "The Math Chat Book," based on his live, call-in TV show and MAA column. Founder of the NSF "SMALL" Undergraduate Research Project, inaugural winner of the Haimo national teaching award, past vice-president of the MAA and of the AMS, he is Atwell Professor Williams College and Editor-Elect of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

To read more about Morgan's lecture, click here.


Daniel Goldston
Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Abstract: Thanks to work of Zhang, Maynard, and Tao in the last two years, we now know that there are infinitely often primes that are within a bounded distance of each other. The current record on that bound is 246. These results were truly shocking to most experts who believed they were far beyond what could be proved at our current state of knowledge. And most experts still think the twin prime conjecture (that there are infinitely many pairs of primes differing by 2) is out of reach, although they are a little less vocal than before. At the same time amateurs have been churning out hopelessly wrong proofs of the twin prime conjecture for years, and continue to do so. This talk will describe some of the ideas behind the recent work on primes and why both amateurs and experts are always getting fooled by primes. 

Biography: Daniel Goldston was born on January 4, 1954, in Oakland, California. He attended the University of California Berkeley starting in 1972, receiving his Ph.D. in 1981 under the supervision of R. Sherman Lehman. He worked at the University of Minnesota Duluth for a year before spending the 1982–1983 academic year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Since 1983 he has worked at San Jose State University except for semesters spent at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1990, the University of Toronto in 1994, and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in 1999. He was awarded a 2014 Cole Prize in Number Theory as were János Pintz, Cem Y. Yıldırım, and Yitang Zhang.

Read more about Goldston's talk


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