Mathematics Departmental News for 2015

Martonosi Elected 2016 INFORMS VP of Membership & Professional Recognition (2015-10-02)

Professor Susan Martonosi was elected as the Vice President for Membership & Professional Recognition of The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), the professional society for operations research, management science, and analytics.

In her position statement, Martonosi said

Like many STEM professions, a particular challenge faced by OR/MS is that of attracting, retaining and advancing members of underrepresented groups. If elected, I would work to develop synergistic programs that benefit all INFORMS members but might be especially impactful for members of underrepresented groups, such as networking activities connecting practitioners with academicians, mentorship networks, and more opportunities for professional development.

Benjamin Quoted in NYT Article about Tim & Tanya Chartier (2015-04-17)

Professor Art Benjamin is quoted in a New York Times article praising Tim and Tanya Chartier’s Mime-matics. Tim Chartier was the Spring 2015 Moody Lecturer, and he and his wife also gave a mime workshop while on campus.

Weinstein ’16 Earns Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention (2015-04-16)

An excerpt from the College’s full article on the Goldwater Fellowships. A Mudd physics major was awarded the Goldwater Fellowship, and an engineering and biochemisty major also got Honorable Mentions.

Madeleine Weinstein ’16 is a mathematics major interested in number theory. Weinstein conducted number theory research at Williams College under the supervision of Nathan McNew, Steven J. Miller and Caroline Turnage-Butterbaugh, generalizing recent results concerning geometric progressions in the integers by considering analogous problems in number fields.

“I’m so grateful to the HMC math professors for their dedication to helping students achieve our mathematical goals,” says Weinstein, whose long-term goal is to earn a PhD in mathematics and teach at the university level. She will continue her work in discrete mathematics research this summer under the supervision of Joe Gallian, professor of mathematics at University of Minnesota, Duluth.

All college sophomores and juniors are eligible to compete for the scholarships, which are awarded on the basis of academic merit. HMC nominates up to four students annually for the Goldwater Scholarship Program. The Department Chairs Committee serves as the nominating body.

2014 International Mathematical Contest in Modeling and Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (MCM/ICM) Results (2015-04-13)

The results of the 2015 International Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM) and Interdisciplinary Contest in Modeling (ICM) have been announced. HMC had seven teams of students participating in the contests held in February.

Worldwide, 7636 teams participated in the MCM, and 2137 teams participated in the ICM.

In the ICM, one HMC team earned the Finalist designation, which is the second-highest designation and is reserved for the second highest percentile of scores! Congratulations to the members of that team: Matthew Dannenberg, Justin Lee and Micah Pedrick!

Also in the ICM, two teams earned the Meritorious designation (top 17%). In the MCM, one team earned the Meritorious designation (top 11%), one team earned an Honorable Mention (top 42%) and two teams 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. [MCM] Eradicating ebola
  2. [MCM] Searching for a lost plane
  3. [ICM] Modeling turnover in an organization
  4. [ICM] Modeling sustainable development in developing countries

Here are the participating HMC teams:

Problem C: Matthew Dannenberg, Justin Lee, Micah Pedrick
Problem A: Yossathorn (Josh) Tawabutr, Dan Schmidt, Bo Zhang
Problem C: Mimee Xu, Martin Loncaric
Problem D: Joana Perdomo, Jennifer Rogers, Lin Yang
Honorable Mention
Problem A: Sarah Scheffler, John Phillpot, Andrew Gibiansky
Successful Participant
Problem A: Shiyue Li, Dina Sinclair, Michael Sheely
Problem B: Jazmin Ortiz, Nathan Geldner, Sophie Blee-Goldman

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

Benjamin Named to Smallwood Family Chair (2015-04-08)

Mathemagician Art Benjamin is the inaugural holder of the Smallwood Family Chair, an endowed professorship established to recognize and support the work of an outstanding faculty member in engineering, mathematics or computer science.

An important addition to the $150 million Campaign for Harvey Mudd College, the Smallwood Family Chair was established by Scott R. and Carol Ann Smallwood P17. Their gift recognizes and supports the work of an outstanding Harvey Mudd faculty member, distinguished in his/her field and in his/her service to the College through teaching, research and service to the broader community.

Benjamin, an expert in algorithms, combinatorics, game theory and operations research, is recognized nationally for his ability to perform rapid mental calculations. He has lectured and performed for audiences around the world and is the only living American with a biography in The Great Mental Calculators, Past and Present. He has published several books on how to make math both fun and easy, including The Fascinating World of Graph Theory, Secrets of Mental Math—a guide to performing his trademark Mathemagics—and Proofs That Really Count, a book on mathematical patterns.

“During his quarter-century at the College, Art has been an exciting and inspiring teacher, a prolific scholar, a supportive colleague and an enthusiastic promoter of Harvey Mudd,” says Jeff Groves, dean of the faculty.

“We are thrilled to have Professor Benjamin as the inaugural holder of the Smallwood Family Chair,” says Scott Smallwood P17. “We saw his `show’ at our first Mudd Family Weekend and loved it. He represents all that is great about Harvey Mudd and why we are so happy to be involved.”

Endowed faculty positions allow the College to attract and retain faculty members capable of teaching and mentoring students at the highest level while ensuring that the College’s faculty-student ratio remains low.

Mudd Math Grads Win NSF Graduate Research Fellowships (2015-04-04)

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program has announced their 2015 awards and honorable mentions. Seven HMC students or graduates received awards, and another six received honorable mention (list below). Notably, all of our major-granting departments are represented in the list—mathematics majors and joint majors are emphasized.

2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Awards

Patterson, Anastasia (Chemistry ’14)
Materials Research—Chemistry of Materials, UC Santa Barbara
McDermott, Matt (Mathematics ’14)
Mathematical Sciences—Statistics
Kealhofer, Robert (Physics ’13)
Physics and Astronomy—Condensed Matter Physics, UC Berkeley
Donti, Priya (CS/Math Joint, ’15)
Comp/IS/Eng—Algorithms and Theoretical Foundations
Cuenca, Martha (Engineering ’13)
Engineering—Civil Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Chen, William (Mathematical Biology ’12)
Life Sciences—Ecology, University of Washington
Beckwith, Olivia (Mathematics ’13)
Mathematical Sciences—Algebra, Number Theory, and Combinatorics, Emory University

2015 Honorable Mention

Schofield, Alexandra (CS/Math Joint, ’13)
Comp/IS/Eng—Natural Language Processing, Cornell University
Riggins, Paul (Physics ’12)
Physics and Astronomy—Theoretical Physics, UC Berkeley
Purser, Carola (Physics ’13)
Physics and Astronomy—Condensed Matter Physics, Ohio State University
Go, Eun Bin (Chemistry/Biology Joint ’15)
Chemistry—Chemical Synthesis
Fung, Millie (Chemistry/Biology Joint ’11)
Chemistry—Chemical Measurement and Imaging, UC Irvine
Carey, Thomas (Biology/Engineering Double, ’13)

See also the College’s article about the Fellowships.

College Continues Tradition of Putnam Excellence (2015-04-02)

Combining cleverness and problem-solving skills, Harvey Mudd College students continued a longstanding tradition of success at this year’s William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, considered one of the world’s most prestigious university-level mathematics competitions.

Thirty-six Harvey Mudd students spent Dec. 6, 2014, taking the difficult exam along with more than 4,000 other students across the United States and Canada. In the individual category, three Harvey Mudd students earned Honorable Mentions (ranking 86th or higher): Abram Sanderson ’17 (85.5th), Tongjia Shi ’15 (56.5th) and Natchanon Suaysom ’18 (71.5th). Each will receive the RIF Prize from the Department of Mathematics for this accomplishment.

An additional nine Mudders made the Putnam Top 500 list: Ben Lowenstein ’16, Josh Petrack ’16, Sam Miller ’17, Colin Okasaki ’17, Joshua Kutsko ’16, Dina Sinclair ’17, Bo Li ’16, Alex Ozdemir ’17 and Martin Loncaric ’15.

In the team competition, Reyna Hulett ’17, Sanderson and Shi placed 20th out of 577 institutions.

Harvey Mudd College has a strong tradition of performing well in the Putnam, says Francis Su, Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics, who, along with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Mohamed Omar, coached this year’s teams.

“On a per capita basis, on any given year, we probably have the highest participation rate and one of the strongest showings in the Top 500 of any school, when adjusted for school size,” says Su. “With 500 schools in the competition, we regularly claim between 10 and 20 students in the Top 500, and many schools are more than 10 times our size.” This year, 12 Harvey Mudd students—representing a cross-section of majors at the College—placed in the Top 500.

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

Harvey Mudd students first participated in the Putnam competition on Dec. 2, 1961. In 1991, the Harvey Mudd team garnered third place. Su hopes the College’s continued success in the competition will serve to attract a larger cross-section of participants.

“In particular, we’d love to encourage more women to participate,” says Su, who runs a pizza and problem-solving group (Math 93) ahead of the competition in the fall. “The experience is not as much about competition as it is to enjoy the fun of problem-solving with others.”

Two Seniors Earn Watson Fellowships (2015-03-26)

Harvey Mudd College seniors Priya Donti (joint computer science/mathematics) and Sophia Williams (engineering) have each been awarded one of this year’s prestigious Watson Fellowships. Fifty fellows were chosen from more than 700 candidates worldwide.

The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant for purposeful, independent study outside the United States, awarded to graduating seniors nominated by one of 40 partner colleges. The program produces a year of personal insight, perspective and confidence that shapes the arc of fellows’ lives. Started in 1968, Watson alumni comprise leaders in every field. The one-year stipend is $30,000.

Priya Donti ’15

Donti’s Watson Fellowship will concentrate on the cultural and social ramifications of renewable energy policy and making the electric grid “smarter.” She will travel to four countries (Germany, India, South Korea and Chile) in various stages of Smart Grid policy creation and implementation. In each, she will explore policymakers’ motivations and strategies for planning their Smart Grids, as well as the local effects of these plans. She hopes to deepen her understanding of the influences on people’s views of Smart Grid technology and policy.

“In the face of global climate change, intelligent energy distribution systems are hailed among environmentalists as the solution to increasing renewable energy usage,” writes Donti. “However, the purpose and efficacy of this technology in different countries may depend on governmental and cultural contexts. By exploring the interactions between policies and people, I will gain insight into the dynamics of social change within a particular cultural context.”

Donti became interested in sustainability in high school and has been involved in related initiatives ever since. As a former co-president of Engineers for a Sustainable World/Mudders Organizing for Sustainability Solutions (ESW/MOSS), Donti helped prepare a speech for a California Public Utilities Commission public hearing that evaluated a proposed new rate structure and worked with the College’s board of trustees to get approval on the school’s Green Fund.

Artificial intelligence (AI) research conducted under Professor of Computer Science Jim Boerkoel led Donti to develop an interest in AI’s usefulness for Smart Grids, she says, and eventually to her Watson proposal. She also credits political science Professor Paul Steinberg’s Comparative Environmental Politics course for teaching her “the importance of understanding policies and politics on a local level when examining the factors that lead to social change.”

Sophia Willams ’15

Williams will spend her Watson year learning how to best end poverty by studying the effectiveness of different methods of aid, with specific focus on microloans, small businesses, direct grants and their efficacy. She aims to hear people’s stories firsthand to learn whether different forms of aid have actually helped to improve quality of life.

Williams has been fascinated by what causes poverty and the effectiveness of the solutions to end it since high school, when she spent eight weeks in Paraguay with Amigos de las Americas teaching health and environmental education courses to children. Williams says she witnessed a substantial disconnect between what nonprofits and governments think that people in poverty need, and what people in poverty actually need. Independent of her studies, she has dedicated herself to learning about the economics of poverty and the efficacy of microloans and small business to end poverty.

“By working with NGOs and aid organizations, I will be able directly access people who’ve received these forms of aid,” writes Williams. “Additionally, I will talk with local small business owners to discover what led to their ultimate success or failure.” Williams will visit communities in Jordan, India, Kenya, Greece and Chile.

A Harvey Mudd President’s Scholar, Williams has served as the Summer Institute (SI) program’s head mentor and in a variety of other leadership roles across campus, including as an aide for the Future Achievers in Science and Technology program, as a mentor for Atwood Dorm and as a Dean of Students (DOS) Muchacho.

Thirty-two Harvey Mudd students have received Watson Fellowships.

Williams Named American Council on Education Fellow (2015-03-02)

The American Council on Education (ACE) has named Harvey Mudd College Associate Professor of Mathematics Talithia Williams an ACE Fellow for academic year 2015–2016.

The ACE Fellows Program, established in 1965, is designed to strengthen institutions and leadership in American higher education by identifying and preparing emerging leaders for senior positions in college and university administration. Forty-seven Fellows, nominated by the senior administration of their institutions, were selected this year following a rigorous application process. As an ACE Fellow, Williams will attend retreats and interactive learning opportunities in addition to being placed at another institution to increase her understanding of higher education challenges and opportunities. Williams’ final placement is currently being determined.

Her passion for integrating the educational process with real-world statistical applications drives Williams’ research, which emphasizes the spatial and temporal structure of data with environmental applications. She has spoken throughout the country about the value of statistics in quantifying personal health information. Her recent TED talk, “Own Your Body’s Data,” has garnered nearly one million views. She is also a recent recipient of the Mathematical Association of America’s Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Beginning Faculty Member.

Math Student Research Fellowship Awards (2015-02-19)

I am delighted to announce, on behalf of the Mathematics Department, the winners in this year’s competition for the Borrelli Fellowship and Math Department Research Fellowships.

The Borrelli Fellowship is awarded to Ben Lowenstein, for research to be conducted with Prof. Francis Su.

A Math Department Research Fellowship is awarded to Stephen Schein, for research to be conducted with Prof. Andrew Bernoff.

Please join us in congratulating these students on their honors!

Math Simplified Through Mime (2015-02-18)

In connection with the spring The Michael E. Moody Lecture Series, the husband-and-wife team of Tim and Tanya Chartier will present a free Mime show from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 5, in the Harvey Mudd Shanahan Center Auditorium.

In Mime-matics, the Chartiers explore mathematical ideas through the art of mime, illustrating and simplifing complex math concepts. Whether creating an illusion of an invisible wall, wearing a mask covered with geometric shapes or pulling on an invisible rope, the couple delves into math concepts such as estimation, tiling and infinity. Through Mime-matics, audiences encounter math through the entertaining style of performing artists who have performed in local, national and international settings.

Tanya Chartier has been in the field of K-12 education for 20 years. Between her undergraduate studies in English literature at Denison University and graduate studies in the teaching of reading at Western Michigan University, Tanya studied literacy in Japan as a Fulbright Fellow. Since then, her experiences have run the gamut from classroom teacher, reading specialist, theater teacher and diagnostician for reading disabilities. In addition, Tanya has taught in the Education Department at Davidson College.

An associate professor of mathematics and computer science at Davidson College, Tim Chartier specializes in applied linear algebra in the fields of data analytics and partial differential equations. In 2014, he was named the inaugural Math Ambassador for the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), which also recognized Chartier’s ability to communicate math with a national teaching award. His research and scholarship were recognized with an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship. Published by Princeton University Press, Tim wrote Math Bytes: Google Bombs, Chocolate-Covered Pi, and Other Cool Bits in Computing and coauthored the textbook Numerical Methods: Design, Analysis, and Computer Implementation of Algorithms. Tim fields mathematical questions for the Sports Science program on ESPN, and has also been a resource for a variety of media inquiries, which include appearances with NPR, the CBS Evening News, USA Today and The New York Times.

Tim and Tanya Chartier’s mime combines masks, puppetry and classical mime illusions into a distinctive style that they have performed throughout the United States and also in the Netherlands, Japan and South Korea. The Chartiers have trained at Le Centre du Silence mime school, the Dell’Arte School of International Physical Theater and with the world-renowned mime artist Marcel Marceau.

Williams to Receive MAA Alder Award for Teaching (2015-02-16)

The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) has chosen Talithia Williams, associate professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, to receive its 2015 Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Beginning Faculty Member. The award honors faculty members 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 Talithia with this honor,” said Professor of Mathematics Arthur Benjamin, who nominated Williams for the award. “Her boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm have inspired the latest generation of Mudders. Talithia is an outstanding teacher and has done a great job promoting the power of statistics and data science to students at HMC and beyond.”

Williams has spoken throughout the country about the value of statistics in quantifying personal health information. Her recent TED talk, “Own Your Body’s Data,” has garnered nearly one million views.

Williams has also had substantial impact locally and nationally encouraging students from traditionally underrepresented groups to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Locally, she runs an annual conference (Sacred SISTAHS) that teaches hundreds of young girls from minority communities about the benefits of studying STEM and how to successfully navigate that path. At the national level, she serves as treasurer for SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science), is founding co-director of EDGE (Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education) and serves the MAA as governor-at-large for minority interests.

The MAA established the Alder award in 2003 and presented its first awards the following year. Williams is the fifth Harvey Mudd College faculty member to receive the award, and Harvey Mudd is the only college with multiple recipients: Rachel Levy in 2013; Susan Martonosi in 2012; Lesley Ward in 2006; and Francis Su in 2004. The award will be presented to Williams at the MAA MathFest and centennial celebration, to be held August 5–8 in Washington, D.C.

Benjamin Co-authors Book on Graph Theory (2015-02-06)

What is the shortest route for a traveling salesman seeking to visit a number of cities in one trip? Or the minimum number of colors needed to fill in any map so that neighboring regions are always colored differently? These problems and more are encompassed by graph theory, the subject of The Fascinating World of Graph Theory, a book co-authored by Harvey Mudd Professor of Mathematics Arthur Benjamin and Western Michigan University mathematics professors Gary Chartrand and Ping Zhang.

Graph theory, also called network theory, is the mathematics often used to express relationships between objects, such as those in fields like transportation science, data structures and social media. Used across several academic disciplines, graph theory presents some of mathematics’ most wonderful and puzzling problems, sometimes with very elegant proofs.

For example: say you would like to prove that, among any six people, there must exist either three mutual friends or three mutual strangers. Label the people a, b, c, d, e and f. Person f must either have at least three friends or at least three strangers. Say that she has three friends: a, b and c. If any two of these people are friends (a and b, for example), then there would be three mutual friends (namely, a, b and f). Otherwise, no two of these people are friends, and therefore a, b and c are mutual strangers. (A similar argument works if f begins with three strangers.)

“I remember when I first read that proof when I was in college,” says Benjamin. “I was surprised by the statement, but even more excited by the logic used in its proof. Graph theory is full of unintuitive results with simple (and sometimes not-so-simple) explanations.”

At once playful and academically stimulating, The Fascinating World of Graph Theory, available from Princeton University Press, offers an assortment of such questions and puzzles that can be understood and solved by someone with a math background of high school algebra, says Benjamin. And it serves as more than just a tutorial—it also examines graph theory’s history, which dates back to the 18th century, as well as some of the brilliant individuals responsible for advancing the field.

Problems explored include classics such as the Königsberg Bridge Problem, the Chinese Postman Problem, a Knight’s Tour and the Road Coloring Problem. The book gives readers hands-on experience using a vast array of graphs, including bipartite and Eulerian graphs, the Petersen graph and tree graphs. Each chapter contains fun, challenging exercises.

Benjamin is no stranger to writing fun and accessible mathematics texts. He is the author of Secrets of Mental Math—a guide to performing his trademark Mathemagics—and Proofs That Really Count, a book on mathematical patterns. Benjamin credits Chartrand and Zhang as more experienced on the subject of graph theory, but believes his fresh take on the topic and entertaining approach to mathematics in general helps the book appeal to a general audience.

“The authors entice and enthuse readers through a number of fun problems which present various aspects of the subject,” says reviewer Robin J. Wilson, author of Introduction to Graph Theory. “Many of these problems are familiar, while others are less well known or of a more serious nature. This book can be used in different ways—as an entertaining book on recreational mathematics or as an accessible textbook on graph theory.”