Mathematics Departmental News for 2013

Sad News About Bob Borrelli (2013-09-11)

It is with deep sadness that I bring you the news of the passing of Bob Borrelli.

Bob was instrumental in the development of the HMC Mathematics Program. He joined the faculty in 1964 and retired in 2000 after thirty-five years of service during which time he had served multiple terms as department chair and as director of the Mathematics Clinic program (occasionally doing both jobs simultaneously). Bob played a pivotal role in the hiring of the second generation of HMC Mathematicians including Art Benjamin, Lisette de Pillis and Michael Moody. I had the privilege of teaching Fourier Analysis with Bob in my first year at HMC; he helped me understand how to teach and mentor our amazing students.

Three of Bob’s true loves in his life were his vivacious wife Ursula, a good bottle of wine, and differential equations. Ursula was a force of nature and the perfect foil for Bob’s ebullient personality. Bob’s knowledge of wine was encyclopedic, and those of us who were fortunate enough to share a bottle with Bob knew we were in for a treat, and also a short lecture on the origin and the vintage of the bottle. Bob’s passion for differential equations was shared by his longtime colleague and collaborator Courtney Coleman (and many, many others including Darryl Yong, Lisette de Pillis, Mike Moody and Ami Radunskaya). With Courtney he authored a textbook and built ODE Architect, a piece of visualization software used by a generation of HMC students. Those of us who were privileged to be at his 80th celebration got to see not only his love for Ursula, wine and ODEs but also to see how many lives Bob has touched and changed for the better.

Bob’s legacy in the department include two awards he endowed (the Giovanni Borrelli Fellowship and the Giovanni Borrelli Prize) and the Interface journal which promotes undergraduate interdisciplinary journal and has been reinvented as the online Interface Compendium. More broadly, he co-founded the Glossary entry >>ccms-full<< doesn’t exist! and infused the magic of the Clinic program into a summer program at UCLA, the Research in Industry Program for Students (RIPS). But his true legacy is the generations of mathematicians at HMC and beyond that he inspired to do great things.

Rest in peace Bob—you will always be loved by your colleagues and friends.

Andrew Bernoff
Chair, Department of Mathematics Kenneth and Diana Jonsson Professor of Mathematics Harvey Mudd College

More information about Bob and his many accomplishments is available on his remembrance page on the college’s website.

Francis Su Elected President of MAA (2013-05-18)

The Mathematical Association of America has elected Harvey Mudd College mathematics Professor Francis Su to be its 55th president.

The MAA is the largest professional society that focuses on mathematics at the undergraduate level.

One of the youngest presidents in MAA’s history, Su will serve as president-elect in 2014, participating in the governance of the association and preparing for his two-year term as president.

“The department is enormously proud of Francis,” said HMC Mathematics Department Chair Andrew Bernoff. “He has a long history of service to the MAA and a deep and lasting commitment to undergraduate mathematics. I think he will do an extraordinary job, and the department and the College look forward to supporting him as he takes on this role of national prominence and impact.”

Su’s contributions to the MAA include serving on several editorial boards—Focus (2012–2014), American Mathematical Monthly (2007–2011), Math Horizons (2003–2008) and Spectrum (2000–2003)—and committees, including the Council on Meetings and Professional Development and the Association for Women in Science/MAA Awards Task Force. He formerly served as first vice president of the MAA (2010–2012).

The MAA previously recognized Su with the Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished Teaching of Mathematics (2013), the James R.C. Leitzel Lecturer Award (2006), the Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Beginning College or University Mathematics Faculty Member (2004) and the Merten M. Hasse Prize for outstanding mathematical exposition (2001).

Su joined the HMC faculty in 1996. His research interests include geometric and topological combinatorics, and applications to game theory and the social sciences. His article, “Teaching Research: Encouraging Discoveries,” was featured in The Best Writing on Mathematics 2011, published by Princeton University Press.

He is also the creator of the award-winning Math Fun Facts website and the Math Fun Facts iPhone app.

2013 International Mathematical Contest in Modeling and Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (MCM/ICM) Results (2013-04-24)

The results of the 2013 International Mathematical Contest in Modeling and Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling have been announced. HMC had four teams of students participating in the contest held in February.

Over 5000 teams participated worldwide. Two HMC teams earned the designation Honorable Mention (top 46%), and two were Successful Participants.

The MCM/ICM is analogous to an applied Putnam exam, in the form of a grueling 96-hour competition. As Ben Fusaro, creator of the contest in 1983, puts it: “Most problems that come up in business, government, or industry are solved by teams, are likely to take many hours, and would not be restricted to using only pencil and paper. Moreover, the answer must be presented to an executive who wants a clear, understandable response.” Thus, during the contest, students work in teams of up to three students and have 96 consecutive hours to develop a mathematical model and write a formal paper describing their work. The team’s papers are judged not only on their scientific and mathematical accuracy, but also on their clarity of exposition, insight and creativity.

This year’s problems concerned

  1. Modeling the shape of the optimal brownie pan
  2. Projecting water needs in 2025
  3. Network modeling of Earth’s health

Here are the participating HMC teams:

Honorable Mention
Problem A: Milo Toor, Nash Witkin, Braden Neufeld
Problem A: Martin Loncaric, Xinlei Xu
Successful Participant
Problem A: Sean Campbell, Shreyas Kumar, Andrew Yandow
Problem B: Katarina Hoeger, John Wentworth, Eric Autry

Please join me in congratulating these Mudders on their excellent work.

Levy to Receive Alder Award for Teaching (2013-04-22)

The Mathematical Association of America has chosen Rachel Levy, associate professor of mathematics, to receive its 2013 Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Beginning Faculty Member.

The award will be presented Aug. 2, 2013 at the MAA’s MathFest in Hartford, Conn.

Levy is the fourth Harvey Mudd College faculty member to receive the award since its inception in 2003, and HMC is the only college to appear more than once on the Alder Award list.

The award honors faculty whose teaching is effective and extraordinary and extends its influence beyond the classroom. Recipients receive $1,000 and a certificate of recognition.

“I’m thrilled that the MAA has recognized Rachel with this honor,” said Andrew Bernoff, chair of the HMC Department of Mathematics. “Her boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm have inspired the latest generation of Mudders. As a dedicated research advisor, innovative teacher and compassionate and engaging colleague, she embodies our department’s desire to provide the best undergraduate mathematics education on the planet.”

The Alder Awards committee cited Levy’s “singular teaching style encompassing creative writing and presentations about mathematics, tips about meta-cognition and problem solving, and assignments tuned to be realistically messy,” as some of the reasons she was chosen to receive the award.

Levy works extensively with students on research projects such as investigating the motion of thin liquid films with surfactants (such as the lining of human lungs), developing algorithms for the coordination and control of aquatic robots, and modeling whale footprints, slick patches observed on the ocean’s surface in the area of whale activity.

Her efforts have enabled students to collaborate with mathematicians and physicists at other esteemed colleges—such as North Carolina State University, Duke University, the Claremont Graduate University and UCLA—and co-author research articles, which have appeared in publications such as the Journal of Engineering Mathematics. Levy also has been instrumental in obtaining funds from the National Science Foundation, Research Corporation and the Office of Naval Research, which have supported student research and two Clinic projects.

Levy has served as chair of the HMC Teaching and Learning Committee and as advisor to the College’s Math Club and SIAM student chapter. She was recently appointed the editor-in-chief of SIURO, an online publication devoted to undergraduate research in applied and computational mathematics. She is part of an HMC team investigating the efficacy of an inverted classroom teaching model, in which HMC students watch videos of lectures at home and devote class time to small-group learning activities. Levy’s recent project, Grandma Got STEM, has been featured in boingboing, (US and France), Australian radio (ABC) and the Israeli newspaper the Calcalist.

The MAA established the Alder award in 2003 and presented its first awards the following year. Associate Professor of Mathematics Susan Martonosi received the award in 2012, Professor of Mathematics Francis Su received the award in 2004, and former Associate Professor of Mathematics Lesley Ward received it in 2006.

Event to Inspire Future Scientists (2013-04-16)

The third annual Sacred SISTAHS math and science conference for middle- and high-school girls will be held Saturday, April 20, at Harvey Mudd College.

Although open to all girls, the event will focus on empowering young African-American girls by introducing them to successful academic and professional role models.

This year’s conference will feature women from diverse academic and professional fields giving TED-style talks related to the theme “Inspiration Equation: What Inspires You?”

Speakers will include Lisa Cagnolatti, vice president of Southern California Edison’s Business Customer Division, Ingrid Johnson, executive director of the Council of African American Parents, and motivational speaker Nicoline Ambe. HMC math Professors Rachel Levy and Talithia Williams also will present talks. Panelists will include JPL flight systems engineer Tracy Drain, ESRI support analyst Rashan Walker, Raytheon systems engineer Tyrie Mitchell and pediatrician Jana Webb.

“Since this is the third year of the conference, we are really interested in assessing the impact on the girls as they look toward college and begin to think about majors,” said conference organizer and HMC math Professor Talithia Williams. “Mathematics is a gateway subject, and their interest and success in math will often be the path that leads them into other scientific fields. Ultimately, we want them to continue to envision themselves as the STEM leaders of tomorrow.”

A special parent session, facilitated by representatives from the Council of African American Parents, will share how parents can help their daughters choose the right college, complete applications and apply for scholarships.

The event is sponsored by Sacred SISTAHS (Sisters in Solidarity Teaching and Healing our Spirits), the HMC Mathematics Department, the Mathematical Association of America, and Transcendence Children and Family Services of Pomona.

HMC Maintains Tradition of Excellence in Putnam Competition (2013-04-05)

Harvey Mudd College continued its reign as the top-scoring undergraduate institution in the annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, seen by many as the world’s most prestigious university-level mathematics competition.

Of the 42 HMC students who spent Dec. 1, 2012 taking the very hard six-hour exam, many scored well in both the team and individual categories. Across the U.S. and Canada, 4,277 students competed, and this year the median score was 0 out of a total of 120 points. Mudders Sorathan (Tum) Chaturapruek ’14, Kevin O’Neill ’13 and Peter Fedak ’13 placed 11th out of 578 teams. In the individual category, out of 4,277 students, Chaturapruek scored 14th nationally and was recognized in the N1 category, which is the second-highest level of distinction possible in the competition (just under Putnam Fellow). He will receive a $1,000 cash prize. Tongjia Shi ’16 scored 32.5th nationally and was recognized in the Honorable Mention category. HMC’s top three scorers, Chaturapruek, Shi and Fedak also will receive the RIF Prize from the HMC Department of Mathematics.

The following students made the Putnam Top 500 list: Andrew Carter ’13, Michael Earnest ’13, Fedak ’13, Emil Guliyev ’13, Henry Huang ’15, O’Neill ’13, Joel Ornstein ’14, John Phillpot ’16 and Jeremy Usatine ’14.

“The Putnam Competition requires a unique blend of cleverness and problem-solving skills,” said Francis Su, professor of mathematics, who coaches the Putnam Seminar with Nick Pippenger, professor of mathematics. “But Putnam success is not required for success in mathematics since research problems do not always have neat and tidy answers like Putnam problems do. Persistence is often much more important at research success. In the math department, we hope that all students experience the joy of discovery, and math competitions are just one way that our students continue to impress us with their love for mathematics.”

The competition was founded in 1927 by Elizabeth Lowell Putnam in memory of her husband William Lowell Putnam, a Harvard graduate who was an advocate of intercollegiate intellectual competition. The six-hour exam, composed of 12 problems, each worth 10 points, has been offered annually since 1938 to college students in the United States and Canada and is administered by the Mathematical Association of America.

HMC students first participated in the Putnam competition on Dec. 2, 1961 and, in 1991, the HMC team garnered third place.

Mathematics of Doodling Topic of Moody Lecture (2013-03-22)

Four-time Putnam Fellow and Stanford University mathematics Professor Ravi Vakil will present the fifth lecture in the Michael E. Moody Lecture Series at 7 p.m. Friday, April 19, in the Galileo McAlister Lecture Hall at Harvey Mudd College.

Vakil’s talk, “The Mathematics of Doodling,” will explore the mathematical aspects—patterns, shapes, numbers and more—of doodling.

The lecture is free and open to the public. Dessert and refreshments will follow the presentation.

“There is often some sophisticated and fun mathematics buried inside common doodles. I’ll begin doodling, and see where it takes us,” said Vakil. “It looks like play, but it reflects what mathematics is really about: finding patterns in nature, explaining them and then extending them.”

Vakil is an algebraic geometer, whose work touches on other parts of mathematics, including topology, string theory, combinatorics, numbertheory and applied mathematics. He received his doctorate in mathematics from Harvard University and taught at Princeton University and MIT before joining the Stanford faculty in 2001. His honors include the Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, an American Mathematical Society Centennial Fellowship, a Sloan Research Fellowship and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

He currently serves as the 2012–2014 Mathematical Association of America’s Pólya Lecturer and mentors talented mathematicians ranging from high school through graduate-level students. The Michael Moody Lecture Series illuminates the joy, wonder and applicability of mathematics. The series was established by the HMC Mathematics Department in honor of Professor Michael Moody, who served as the department chair from 1996 to 2002. Under Moody’s leadership, the department revised its curriculum, rejuvenated the senior-thesis program and tripled the number of math majors. He was also a guiding force that led to the department’s receipt of the American Mathematical Society’s inaugural award for an Exemplary Program or Achievement in a Mathematics Department in 2006. Moody passed away in January 2010, and later that year was posthumously named an Honorary Alumnus of Harvey Mudd College.

Learn more about the Moody Lecture Series.

Event Encourages Girls to Pursue STEM Fields (2013-02-21)

At least 200 high school girls are expected to attend the Women Engineers and Scientists of Tomorrow (WEST) Conference on Saturday, March 2 at Harvey Mudd College.

Hosted by the HMC chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the event will offer young women an opportunity to learn about careers in engineering, science and mathematics.

“Our main goal is to encourage girls to pursue careers in STEM fields, as well as share with them how fascinating math, science and engineering can be,” said Frances Su ’14, who is SWE co-president with Alice Zhang ’14. “We also want to expose students to different technical fields, and give them a feel for what it is like to be at Mudd and interact closely with professors.”

Participants can meet and talk with HMC students and faculty to gain insight into college life and post-graduation career options. They will attend two workshops from a selection of sessions in engineering, chemistry, computer science, mathematics and biology. This year’s workshops include using color to solve crimes, making decisions using mathematics, and creating games and animations.

The engineering workshops offer the chance to design and build something, such as a “marble” track or LED circuit. They will be led by engineering professors Adrian Hightower, Liz Orwin, Qimin Yang and Ruye Wang. Chemistry workshops will be led by chemistry professors Lelia Hawkins and Katherine Van Heuvelen. Additional workshops will be led by mathematics Professor Susan Martonosi, computer science Professor Colleen Lewis, biology Professor Anna Ahn and Teaching and Research Postdoctoral Fellow Jacqueline Dresch.

Keynote speakers will be Northrop Grumman employees Qiong Jackson, system engineer manager, and Molly Kerr, system performance lead.

The WEST Conference will also include a luncheon, a college admissions talk, a student life panel and a tour of the HMC campus.

Math Alumnae Featured in SIAM Publication (2013-02-20)

Harvey Mudd College alumnae Lindsay Hall ’12 and Andrea Levy ’11 are featured in Careers in Applied Mathematics, published by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM).

The SIAM publication profiles 18 professionals who represent the diverse careers available to mathematicians in a variety of industries and fields.

“If you broaden your perspective on what you can do with your interests and passions, you might find yourself in a career that you never imagined—but end up loving,” said Hall, a software engineer at Google Inc., who works on the Google Docs team.

Levy, a research analyst for the public policy research firm Acumen, LLC, shared how her work employs creative problem-solving skills that remind her of the logic puzzles she enjoyed as a child. “The applications of math are broad enough that you should be able to find an overlap between math and another one of your interests,” she said.

British Magic Journal Features HMC Professor (2013-02-06)

Harvey Mudd College mathematics Professor Art Benjamin appears on the cover of the February 2013 issue of The Magic Circular, published by British magical society The Magic Circle.

Magician and editor Will Houstoun interviewed Benjamin for a Q&A article, which begins on page 45 of the publication.

HMC Invites Students to Explore World of Mathematics (2013-02-04)

Undecided students and mathematics majors can explore careers in mathematics and graduate study opportunities at the AfterMath Conference on Saturday, Feb. 9 at Harvey Mudd College.

More than 90 people have registered for the free event, which is expected to draw more than a hundred students from throughout Southern California.

The conference will feature expert lectures, hands-on workshops and panels with graduate students and those in industry.

“Our dream is to inspire a new generation of mathematicians, who will bring brilliance and diverse perspectives to solve outstanding mathematical problems, benefitting the world around us and leading us into a better future,” said Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dagan Karp, co-founder of the Pacific Alliance for Mathematical Baccalaureates, which organized the event. Modeled after the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in Mathematical Sciences, PAMB works to broaden participation in mathematics in Southern California and Hawaii.

AfterMath keynote speaker Philip Kutzko, professor of mathematics at the University of Iowa, co-founded and directs the National Alliance, which aims to increase doctoral degrees awarded to students from underrepresented groups.

“As a top producer of students who go on to pursue doctorates in the mathematical sciences, HMC is primed and ready to impact the pipeline of underrepresented scholars in mathematics,” said AfterMath co-organizer Talithia Williams, assistant professor of mathematics. “By hosting this conference, we’re bringing together local and national graduate programs, industry professionals, faculty and students, and showcasing the many possibilities that exist with a mathematics degree.”

Panelists include representatives from Aerospace Corporation, Math for America, Mercer, University of California at Irvine, UCLA and HMC. The event will also include a graduate school fair.

AfterMath is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Alliance and the HMC Department of Mathematics.

HMC First Undergrad School to Host Algebraic Geometry Symposium (2013-01-16)

Harvey Mudd College will host the Western Algebraic Geometry Symposium (WAGS) Feb. 16-17, 2013, making the College the first undergraduate institution to host the prestigious event.

“WAGS is the premier venue in the western United States to learn about cutting-edge research in algebraic geometry,” said Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dagan Karp, the event coordinator. “Algebraic geometry is one of the oldest and most active branches of mathematics. Its current research includes applications to robot motion and image recognition. Relations with other subjects include string theory and theoretical physics.”

Scheduled speakers for the symposium include:

Federico Ardila, San Francisco State University
Ardila is an associate professor of mathematics who investigates objects in algebra, geometry, topology, phylogenetics and optimization by understanding their underlying combinatorial structure.
Noah Giansiracusa, University of California, Berkeley
Giansiracusa is a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow whose research focuses on moduli spaces, birational geometry and geometric invariant theory.
Xinyi Yuan, University of California, Berkeley
Yuan is an assistant professor of mathematics who studies Arakelov geometry, Shimura varieties and automorphic forms.
Zhiwei Yun, Stanford University
Yun is an assistant professor of mathematics whose research focuses on geometric representation theory.

Supported by a National Science Foundation grant and participating institutions, WAGS is held twice a year and draws participants—including students and experts in the field of algebraic geometry—from throughout the western United States.

Goldwater Scholarships Awarded (2013-03-29)

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation announced the selection of 271 scholarship awards for the 2013–2014 academic year to undergraduate sophomores and juniors out of 1107 nominees.

Two Harvey Mudd College students were awarded Goldwater Scholarships: Samuel Gutekunst ’14 and Sheena Patel ’14.

In addition an Honorable Mention has been awarded to Andrew Turner ’14.

The scholarships cover tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7500 per year.

Congratulations to Sam, Sheena and Andrew!

Mathematics Students Offered NSF Graduate Research Fellowships (2013-03-29)

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowships were announced today and HMC students earned thirteen offers along with nine Honorable Mentions! The NSF received over 13,000 applications for the 2013 competition and made 2,000 award offers.

Fellowships were offered to Tselil Schramm ’12, a joint CS/mathematics major, and Jenny Iglesias ’12, a mathematics major.

Called out for honorable mentions were Brian Stock ’09, a mathematical and computational biology major, and mathematics majors Louis Ryan ’12 and Alice Paul ’12.

For specific details (research field/proposed institution/current institution), you can view the  Award Offers and Honorable Mentions List.

Francis Su Wins Haimo Award for Distinguished Teaching (2013-01-10)

Harvey Mudd College math Professor Francis Su has won the 2013 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished Teaching of Mathematics.

Given by the Mathematical Association of America, the award honors college or university professors who have been widely recognized as extraordinarily successful and whose teaching has had influence beyond their own institutions. It is the MAA’s highest teaching honor.

The award was presented January 10 at the MAA’s Joint Math Meetings in San Diego. Su received $1000 and a certificate of recognition.

Su joined the HMC faculty in 1996. His research interests include probability, game theory and geometric and topological combinatorics. His article, “Teaching Research: Encouraging Discoveries,” was featured in The Best Writing on Mathematics 2011, published by Princeton University Press.

He is also the creator of the popular award-winning Math Fun Facts website and the Math Fun Facts iPhone app.

The MAA previously recognized Su with the James R.C. Leitzel Lecturer award (2006), the Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Beginning College or University Mathematics Faculty Member (2004), and the Merten M. Hasse Prize for outstanding mathematical exposition (2001).

Math Professor Art Benjamin won the Haimo award in 2000 and 2012 Haimo award recipient Matthew DeLong (Taylor University) is on sabbatical this year in the HMC Department of Mathematics.