Fall 2011 Talks

September 27: Michael Hull
Title: Tic-Tac-Toe, Topology, and the game SET!
Abstract: It does not take too long to figure out the game tic-tac -toe, but how would this game change if you played on the surface of a cylinder? What about other surfaces, such as a torus? We will see what happens in these cases, as well as what happens when we consider playing the game in higher dimensions. We will then consider game SET, which is a card game based on pattern recognition. We will discuss the rules of this game, and see how finding a winning combination of cards in SET corresponds to winning a game of tic-tac-toe on a 4-dimensional torus.

October 4: Stacy Hoehn Fonstad
Title: Smooth Rides on Square Wheels
Abstract: The circular wheels on a typical bike roll smoothly on a flat road, but what would happen if you replaced the wheels on your bike with square wheels? Square wheels obviously won’t roll smoothly on a flat surface, but somewhat surprisingly, you can get a bike with square wheels to ride smoothly on a road with some other shape. A little bit of geometry and some calculus are all that it takes to design the road necessary for a smooth ride on square (and other polygonal) wheels.

October 11: Emily Marshall
Title: Problem Solving Using Graphs
Abstract: What’s the Bacon number of Taylor Swift? How many colors do you need to color a map so that bordering countries have different colors? What’s the best traffic flow pattern through a city? These questions and more can all be answered using graph theory. To a graph theorist, a graph is a set of vertices and edges, not a Cartesian coordinate system. Graph theorists can apply their results to numerous other fields, particularly computer science. This talk explores some of the more fun applications of the field and introduces ways to use graphs to solve everyday problems.

October 18: Justin Fitzpatrick
Title: Mighty Morphin’ Power Series
Abstract: You might know that e^{i*pi} = -1, but do you know where this classic formula comes from? You might know that the infinite sum of 1/n^2 converges, but do you know what it converges to? In this talk we introduce power series not only to answer these questions but also several other questions that are much more easily solved using power series than by the standard techniques taught to first- and second-semester calculus students.

October 25: Nick Boatman
Title: That’s Unbelievable!
Abstract: Sometimes, it’s possible to extract surprising conclusions out of almost no information. In other cases, we can reach conclusions that completely fly in the face of our intuition. In this talk, we’ll examine a few such problems.

November 1: Alex Wires
Title: The Oldest Unsolved Math Problem I Know
Abstract: Ancient records from the Mediterranean to the Fertile Crescent to the Indus Valley to the Wei Valley show the birth of numbers is intimately tied up with the birth of commerce and religious cosmology. From the Greek tradition which marries the study of numbers with philosophical principles, I would like to talk about what I believe to be the oldest open problem.

November 8: Matt Smedberg
Title: Early and Often: How voting systems affect democracy and math affects voting systems
Abstract: To most Americans, voting is an infrequent, simple civic activity: you learn a little about the candidates, choose the one you like the most (or dislike the least!), mark a paper or electronic ballot, and move on with your life. Few of us reflect on how the electoral system might shape our public institutions, and still fewer on how the electoral system might be different, and how such changes could affect the power and workings of public institutions. We will discuss a few such ideas during this talk, including why the U.S. has a two-party system while other nations have several parties, and Arrow’s Theorem stating (informally) that there is no perfect electoral system.

November 15: Corey Jones
Title: To Infinity and Beyond!
Abstract: Math is not really about numbers and equations, its about ideas! The language mathematicians use to describe their ideas is the language of set theory. We will discuss the basic notions of sets, and how they help us “see” things that we can’t see with our limited human senses, things like infinity itself!