Mathematics Departmental News for 2014

L.A. Times: Harvey Mudd Among Colleges Experimenting with “Flipped” Classes (2014-11-17)

The Los Angeles Times has an article about experiments in the use of “flipped classrooms” at Harvey Mudd and other schools, written by Jason Song.

The article features Harvey Mudd professors Darryl Yong and Rachel Levy from math; Karl Haushalter from chemistry; and Nancy Lape from engineering.

In the flipped classroom teaching style, students get traditional lecture material from online videos or podcasts, along with readings. Classroom lectures are replaced by interactive exercises, where students work with the instructor and each other to understand and explore the material from the lectures.

Mudd’s experiment, funded by a federal grant, splits classes into two groups—one using the traditional lecture format, and one using a flipped classroom. Performance appears to be similar between the two classes, although some students have preferred to switch to the more traditional classes.

Other schools doing similar grant-funded experiments include Villanova University, the University of South Florida, and North Carolina State University. The article includes quotes from Villanova’s Randy Weinstein about its program.

Alfonso Castro Named AMS Fellow for 2015 (2014-11-05)

Sixty three mathematical scientists from around the world including our own Professor Alfonso Castro have been named Fellows of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) for 2015, the program’s third year.

The Fellows of the AMS designation recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication, and utilization of mathematics. Among the goals of the program are to create an enlarged class of mathematicians recognized by their peers as distinguished for their contributions to the profession and to honor excellence.

See Fellows of the American Mathematical Society for the full class of Fellows and more information about the Fellows program.

Rising Senior Receives Award at MAA’s MathFest (2014-08-15)

Ksenia Zakirova (HMC ’15) holds a self-siphoning chain while Michael Cork (POM ’16) looks on. They studied the dynamics of this problem using differential geometry, partial differential equations and the occasional experiment.

Student researchers Ksenia Zakirova ’15 and Michael Cork POM ’16 recently received the Mathematical Association of America (MAA)‘s Outstanding Presentation Award at MathFest 2014, which took place Aug. 6–9 in Portland, Oregon.

Every year the MAA recognizes a small number of students for “especially noteworthy presentations.” Their presentation, Modeling and Exploring Chain Fountain Dynamics, was based on summer research advised by Professor Andrew Bernoff and Postdoctoral Fellow Rob Thompson of the Harvey Mudd Department of Mathematics. Zakirova and Cork were selected from a group of almost 150 student presenters.

The chain fountain is a counter-intuitive physical phenomenon that occurs when one end of a bead chain is dropped from a large height. Rather than falling straight down, the chain first rises in a fountain above itself, seemingly defying gravity. Gravity continues to pull out the “self-siphoning” chain while forcing it above the side of its container into a curved shape. The effect offers a visually fascinating physics problem that has gained recent attention thanks to a “Self siphoning beads“, a viral YouTube video posted by British scientist and TV personality Steve Mould.

“We wondered whether we could create a model for the chain siphon in order to determine its properties and analyze why exactly it occurs,” says Zakirova, a mathematics major. The team studied the dynamics of the problem using differential geometry, partial differential equations and physical and numerical experiments, including letting the chain fall from a third-floor balcony to see how high the siphon might rise. The students discovered that the angle and drag for the chain as it left the beaker crucially affected the observed shape.

Despite significant advancements, Zakirova looks forward to future work.

“The next step in solving this problem is finding the traveling wave solutions and seeing how the solution changes over time,” she says. “We have solved this problem for several special cases. However, a full solution to the hyperbolic PDE is still an open problem.” Another major question, she says, is determining what properties might be missing from the numerical simulations. Finding this will shed light on what conditions are necessary for the chain fountain to occur. Under the supervision of Bernoff and Thompson, Zakirova will continue modeling chain fountain dynamics for her senior thesis project this year.

The research began at Macalester College during an eight-week Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) led by Bernoff and Thompson. Funding was provided as part of an $800,000 National Science Foundation workforce program grant to the mathematics department that has facilitated the hiring of six postdoctoral fellows and provided summer funding for a dozen undergraduate researchers, including Zakirova.

In addition to Zakirova and Cork, many other Claremont Colleges mathematics students participated in summer research projects at the Claremont Colleges and other top colleges and universities. The Claremont Center for Mathematical Sciences (CCMS) will celebrate the efforts of all these students with a poster session and discussion on Wednesday, September 17, from 4:15–5:15 p.m. at the Caryll Mudd and Norman F. Sprague Courtyard and Gallery in the R. Michael Shanahan Center for Teaching and Learning. Refreshments will be provided.

More information can be found at the MAA’s MathFest Student Paper Sessions page.

Original article Senior Receives MAA Award.

Simons Foundation Funds Collaborative Research on Swarms (2014-06-02)

Andrew Bernoff, Harvey Mudd College’s Kenneth and Diana Jonsson Professor of Mathematics, recently received a five-year, $35,000 Collaboration Grant for Mathematicians from the Simons Foundation for 2014. The grant has been awarded for his research titled “Discrete & Continuous Models of Non-local Chemical and Biological Systems.”

Bernoff’s work focuses on mathematical modeling of pattern formation in physical and biological systems. On the biological side, he is particularly interested in how birds, fish and insects form aggregations, usually known as swarms. Ultimately he and his collaborators would like to understand how massive destructive locust swarms form, and develop strategies for intervention. On the physical side, he is interested in how intermolecular forces can drive the formation of elaborate labyrinthian patterns in magnetic fluids and related systems.

“Our studies are driven in part by a desire to understand how simple interaction rules between individual molecules or organisms can drive pattern formation on much larger scales,” says Bernoff. “By working with a network of biologists, physicists, mathematicians and a swarm of bright Harvey Mudd undergraduates, we are unraveling the mysteries of the elaborate patterns we see in biological and physical systems.”

Collaborators on the research project include Chad Topaz (a Macalester College mathematician who studies insect motion), Leah Edelstein-Keshet (a noted University of British Columbia mathematical biologist), Maria d’Orsogna (a statistical physicist at California State University, Northridge) and Elizabeth Mann (an experimental physicist at Kent State University), as well as numerous undergraduates from Harvey Mudd and Macalester Colleges.

Established in 1994 by Jim and Marilyn Simons, the Simons Foundation aims to advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences. The goal of its Collaboration Grant for Mathematicians program is to support the “mathematical marketplace” by substantially increasing collaborative contacts among mathematicians working in the United States.

Harvey Mudd College is committed to providing its undergraduates with hands-on research experiences to help prepare them for the rigors of graduate school and beyond. A recipient of the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Award for the Integration of Research and Education, Harvey Mudd College has long recognized the importance of collaborative student-faculty research, setting aside nearly $3 million annually for the purpose. Anchored by a research-supportive curriculum, Harvey Mudd students pursue research and collaborate with faculty both during the academic year and in the summer through the College’s Summer Research Program.

Original article Simons Foundation Funds Collaborative Research on Swarms.

Martonosi Leads Forum for Women in Operations Research and Management Science (2014-06-16)

Susan Martonosi, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Mathematics Clinic Director at HMC, is serving as President of the Forum for Women in Operations Research and Management Science (WORMS) of the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS).

In addition to advising the Board of INFORMS on issues pertaining to women in the OR/MS profession, WORMS plays a valuable role in providing networking and professional development opportunities for its members. These include a popular luncheon, several panel discussions and a speed networking event during the INFORMS Annual Meeting; the WORMS Award for the Advancement of Women in OR/MS; and travel awards for graduate students.

This year, under Martonosi’s leadership, the Forum has established a mentorship network spanning all stages of careers in industry and academia, and a childcare travel fund to assist parents of young children to travel to the Annual Meeting.

The Harvey Mudd College Mathematics Department, with matching funds provided by President Maria Klawe, is a proud sponsor of WORMS.

Alumni Receive NSF Graduate Fellowships (2014-05-11)

Six HMC Mathematics alumni were awarded NSF Graduate Fellowship Awards, with four more receiving an honorable mention.

Graduate Fellowship Awards

  • Samuel Gutekunst (Mathematics, 2014), Algebra, Number Theory, and Combinatorics
  • Benjamin Margolis (Engineering, 2010), Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Brian Stock (Mathematical Biology, 2009), Life Sciences/Ecology, University of California, San Diego/Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Melissa Strait (Mathematics, 2009), Applied Mathematics, North Carolina State University
  • John Peebles (IPS–Complexity Theory, 2013), Algorithms and Theoretical Foundations, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Jeremy Usatine (Mathematics, 2014), Algebra, Number Theory, and Combinatorics

Honorable Mentions

  • Olivia Beckwith (Mathematics, 2013), Algebra, Number Theory, and Combinatorics, Emory University
  • Anne Clark (Mathematical and Computational Biology, 2013), Genomics, University of Washington
  • Matthew McDermott (Mathematics, 2014), Applied Mathematics
  • Alice Paul (Mathematics, 2012), Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, Cornell University

2013 HMC William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition Results (2014-04-02)

The results of the nationwide 2013 William Lowell Putnam Competition have just been announced, and HMC did well! Fifty HMC students spent a Saturday in December (12/7/13) taking this very hard 6-hour exam, which requires unique blend of cleverness and problem-solving skills.

Nationwide, 4113 students competed, and this year the median score was 1 out of a total of 120 points.

The following students distinguished themselves in the Top 500 List:

Name Score Rank
Sorathan Chaturapruek 30 266
Reyna Hulett 30 266
Josh Petrack 30 266
Spencer Harris 29 333
Tongjia Shi 28 365
Benjamin Lowenstein 22 408
John Phillpot 21 442

Sorathan Chaturapruek, Reyna Hulett, Josh Petrack, Spencer Harris, and Tongjia Shi will each receive RIF prizes.

We are proud of all 50 students who sacrificed their time, talent, and energies to represent HMC in this year’s Putnam competition. These students who enjoy problem-solving represent a cross-section of majors at the College. Please join us in congratulating all those who participated!

(See also Putnam Results at Harvey Mudd College.)