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Past MAA Distinguished Lectures

Victoria Stodden
Thursday, October 23, 2014

This lecture is co-sponsored by the American Statistical Association, in celebration of its 175th anniversary.

Abstract: The 21st century will be considered the century of data. Data are being collected by virtually all scientific, educational, governmental, societal, and commercial enterprises leading to not only an explosion in the amount of data but also in the diversity, complexity, and velocity of that data. The opportunities for information and knowledge extraction from these data are enormous; however there are challenges to such information extraction at scale. In this talk I will outline several of the key challenges including the reproducibility and verifiability of statistical results, reliance on big data findings in public discourse and decision-making, and privacy considerations. I will then motivate solutions based in emerging computational tools, policy, the practice of science, and statistical methods.

Biography: Victoria Stodden is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and affiliated with Columbia University. Stodden has served on the National Academies of Science committee on "Responsible Science: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process.” She has developed software platforms (,, written many articles and recommendations (e.g. the "Reproducible Research Standard"), and testified before the Congressional House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on Scientific Transparency and Integrity. In 2014, she published two co-edited volumes, Implementing Reproducible Research (see ) and Big Data, Privacy, and the Public Good (see Stodden has a Ph.D. in statistics from Stanford University and an MLS from Stanford Law School.

Read more about Stodden's talk.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Martin Gardner (1914-2010) was a prolific writer, bringing recreational mathematics to a wide, appreciative audience over many years. Much more rare are appearances of Gardner on video. In recognition of the centennial of Gardner’s birth, this MAA “Celebration of Mind” event will feature long-lost video footage of an interview with Martin Gardner, conducted in 1994 when he received the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award. Come hear Gardner talk about his writing and see him show off some magic tricks, then hear more about Gardner from Dana Richards (George Mason University), Bill Ritchie (ThinkFun), Ivars Peterson (MAA), and Colm Mulcahy (Spelman College).

In the spirit of the gift exchange at the biennial Gathering 4 Gardner events, attendees are encouraged to bring a favorite puzzle or other small item to share with all the other attendees. Please plan on 70 copies. Each attendee will receive at the end of the event a gift packet made up of these items.

Read more about the event.

Erica Flapan, Pomona College
Monday, September 22, 2014

Abstract: In this lecture I will give examples of mirror image symmetry in life in general and chemistry in particular. I explain why it is important to determine whether a molecule has mirror image symmetry, and discuss the differences between a geometric, chemical, and topological approach to understanding mirror image symmetry. I present various examples of molecules that are symmetric or asymmetric from different viewpoints including some of my own results about topologically asymmetric molecules. No background is necessary to understand the lecture.

Biography: Erica Flapan received her B.A. from Hamilton College in 1977 and her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1983. She was a post-doc for two years at Rice University and for one year at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She joined the faculty at Pomona College in 1986. Since 2006, she has been the Lingurn H. Burkhead Professor of Mathematics at Pomona College. In addition to teaching at Pomona College, Flapan has been teaching regularly at the Summer Mathematics Program for Women Undergraduates at Carleton College. In 2010, Flapan won the Distinguished Teaching Award from the Southern California and Nevada Section of the MAA. Then, in 2011, Flapan won the MAA’s Haimo Award for distinguished college or university teaching of mathematics.  She was selected as an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society.

Erica Flapan’s research is in the areas of knot theory, spatial graph theory, and 3-manifolds. She is one of the pioneers of the study of the topology of graphs embedded in 3-dimensional space, and has published extensively in this area and its applications to chemistry and molecular biology. In addition to her research papers, she has published an article in the College Mathematics Journal titled “How to be a good teacher is an undecidable problem,” as well as three books. Her first book, When Topology Meets Chemistry, was published jointly by the MAA and Cambridge University Press. Her second book, Applications of Knot Theory, is a collection of articles that Flapan co-edited with Professor Dorothy Buck of Imperial College London. Most recently, Flapan co-authored an elementary textbook called Number Theory: A Lively Introduction with Proofs, Applications, and Stories with James Pommersheim and Tim Marks, published by John Wiley and Sons. She is currently at work on a new book that will be titled Knots, Molecules, and the Universe: An Introduction to Topology.

Read more about Flapan's lecture.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Speakers: Mary Gray (American University), James Donaldson (Howard University), and Linda Braddy (MAA)

Lee Lorch, who died earlier this year at the age of 98, was a mathematician and a civil rights activist. He taught at City College in New York and a number of historically African-American colleges and universities, and was fired from several of these because of his activism. He spent most of his career at York University in Toronto.

Our speakers will survey Lorch's contributions, the progress that has been made, and what still needs to be done.

A reception will follow this event.

Learn more about Lorch's contributions.

Organized by Joe Auslander, Professor of Mathematics (emeritus) University of Maryland, and Michael Pearson, MAA Executive Director

Jordan Ellenberg, University of Wisconsin
Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Abstract: For five years, a group of MIT students exploited a loophole in the Massachusetts State Lottery to win game after game, eventually pocketing more than $3 million. I'll talk about how they did it, why they got away with it, the mathematical notions of expected value and variance, and the surprising relationship of all this with projective geometry.

Biography: Jordan Ellenberg earned his Ph.D. in math from Harvard in 1998 and is now Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of How Not To Be Wrong, a book about the ubiquity of mathematical thinking in everyday life, forthcoming from the Penguin Press in June 2014. His research specialties are number theory and algebraic geometry; he has held an NSF-CAREER award and was one of the plenary speakers at the 2013 AMS/MAA Joint Meetings. His writing on mathematical topics appears regularly in Slate, and he has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and Wired. He blogs at Quomodocumque and tweets at @JSEllenberg. (Photo credit Mats Rudels.)

Read more about Ellenberg's lecture.