The theme for the Fall 2009 Dr. Bruce J. Nelson '74 Distinguished Speaker Series is “The Power and Beauty of Mathematics.” Through wide-ranging presentations by experts in the field of mathematics and follow-up discussions and analysis with students and faculty, the Nelson Series will celebrate and explore the impact that mathematics has had upon the world—as a tool to develop public policy and solve societal issues, as a driver of innovation and creativity in media and entertainment, and as a unique and beautiful, stand-alone art form. (Download series poster) (pdf)
Friday, Oct. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Professor of Mathematics and Physics, Columbia University
“String Theory: Reaching for Einstein’s Dream”
In 1993 and subsequently in 1995, Greene and his colleagues discovered topology change. Whereas Einstein’s general relativity shows that the fabric of space can stretch in time (resulting in our expanding universe), it does not allow the fabric to rip. To the contrary, Greene and his colleagues showed that in string theory—by including quantum mechanics—the fabric of space can tear, establishing that the universe can evolve in far more dramatic ways than Einstein had envisioned.
A math prodigy and Rhodes Scholar, Brian Greene is a leading proponent of superstring theory, the idea that minuscule strands of energy vibrating in 11 dimensions create every particle and force in the universe. He has written several best-selling and non-technical books on the subject, such as "The Elegant Universe," a Pulitzer finalist, Aventis winner and the basis for a three-hour Nova special. He is a professor at Columbia University's Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics.
Friday, Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m.
Mathematician, actor and author
“Math Doesn't Suck”
McKellar will discuss the negative stereotyping surrounding math in this country, especially relating to girls, and the importance of reversing these stereotypes for the good of the country. She will demonstrate how she has tackled these problems in her books “Math Doesn't Suck” and “Kiss My Math.”
Danica McKellar, a summa cum laude mathematics graduate from UCLA, best known as the actress who played Winnie Cooper on “The Wonder Years” and Elsie Snuffin on“The West Wing,”is a two-time New York Times bestselling author with her groundbreaking books, "Math Doesn’t Suck” and “Kiss My Math.” She is currently writing her third. In August 2007, upon her debut as an author, McKellar was named “Person of the Week” by ABC World News with Charles Gibson. Her math books are aimed at teaching middle-school girls and their parents how to master many of the tough math concepts that are introduced in middle school – the time when young girls begin to shy away from math.
Friday, Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m.
Professor of Mathematics and Executive Officer for Mathematics, Caltech
“The Intersection of Mathematics & Media”
Gary Lorden is professor emeritus of mathematics at Caltech, where he taught statistics and probability from 1968 through 2009. While serving as head of the math department, he became the lead mathematical adviser to the hit CBS TV show “Numb3rs,” and continued in that role for five seasons. With Keith Devlin of Stanford, he wrote “The Numbers behind Numb3rs: Solving Crime with Mathematics,” which explains for the general reader how the mathematical techniques used on the show apply to real-world problems. Lorden’s research uses probability theory to develop solutions to problems of statistical inference for streams of data.
Thursday, Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m.
Senior Researcher and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University
“Euclid's ‘Elements’ as a Videogame”
You think he's joking? Or maybe he's fallen victim to the temptation to over-hype his thesis? Well, maybe 20 percent on both counts. But the remaining 80 percent is deadly serious—or does Devlin mean seriously fun? The fact is, when it comes to the basic, everyday mathematics that everyone needs to live a full and productive life in modern society, videogames provide the ideal medium inwhich to learn it. The next decade will see this become a reality. By 2020, you won't need a talk like this, you'll just play the videogame. The talk will explain why.
Keith Devlin, "the Math Guy" on National Public Radio, researches the use of different media to teach and communicate mathematics to diverse audiences. He also works on the design of information/reasoning systems for intelligence analysis. He is the author of “Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind”, “Life by the Numbers; The Language of Mathematics”: “Making the Invisible Visible; Mathematics, InfoSense, The Math Gene, and The Millennium Problems.
Friday, Nov. 20, 7:30 p.m.
Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Cornell University
“SYNC: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order”
Steven Strogatz will discuss the science of synchrony, which brings mathematics, physics and biology to bear on the mystery of how spontaneous order occurs at every level of the cosmos, from the nucleus on up. He will explore the mysterious synchrony achieved by fireflies that flash in unison by the thousands, and the question of what makes our own body clocks synchronize with night and day and even with one another. He explores the sync of inanimate objects, inadvertently discovered by Christiaan Huygens in 1665 when he observed that his two pendulum clocks would swing in unison when they were within a certain distance of each other. A case of spontaneous synchrony occurred on the 2000 opening of the Millennium footbridge in London when hundreds of pedestrians caused the bridge to undulate erratically as they unconsciously adjusted their pace to the bridge's swaying—it was closed two days later. Strogatz explores synchrony in chaos systems, at the quantum level, in small-world networks as exemplified by the parlor game "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" and in human behavior involving fads, mobs and the herd mentality of stock traders. He traces how the isolated and often accidental discoveries of researchers are beginning to gel into the science of synchrony, and illustrates how the laws of mathematics underlie the universe's uncanny capacity for spontaneous order.
Steven Strogatz is known for his contributions to the study of synchronization in dynamical systems, and for his work in a variety of areas of applied mathematics, including mathematical biology and complex network theory. His 1998 Nature paper with Duncan Watts, entitled "Collective dynamics of small-world networks" is the most highly cited article about networks in the past decade, according to the ISI Web of Science.