Fall 2012 Talks

September 25: Michael Hull
Title: The Math in Futurama
Abstract: You may be familiar with the show Futurama, but did you know that the show contains a plethora of math references hidden in the background? Many of these references require quite a bit of mathematical training to even notice. We will show some examples of this from the show and explain a bit of the mathematical background behind what is going on. Topics will include cryptography, number theory, computer science, group theory, and more!

October 2: 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 9: Justin Fitzpatrick
Title: Combinatorics: I Choose You!
Abstract: Ever wonder where the numbers in Pascal’s Triangle come from, or why they work out so nicely? In this talk, we’ll look at some basic techniques of counting by combinations and permutations and see how they lead us to some interesting results including the binomial theorem, which is the source of the numbers in Pascal’s famous triangle.

October 16: Sayan Das
Title: Mathematics that changed the world: A journey through the ages
Abstract: Ever wondered how the circumference of the earth was measured? Or the speed of light? Did you know that very simple but elegant ideas from mathematics can be used to solve problems from other sciences, often having deep influence that permeates through the ages? In this talk, I shall mention certain beautiful but simple mathematics that really changed the world!

October 23: Colin Klaus
Title: Gyroscopic Motion
Abstract: The advent of calculus marked an unprecedented passage in human history. As never before, locked away phenomena of the natural world was suddenly and coherently rendered. If unappreciated today, this thought was revolutionary then, that nature is comprehensible, an idea so possessing that it widespread even unto the literary circles of the 18th century, e.g. Alexander Pope. In this talk, I’ll introduce the audience to the defining features and behaviors of material gyroscopes, especially as they pertain to free-rotator scenarios. Marvelously, these – bike wheels, footballs, basketballs (degenerate), frisbee’s, spinning tops, earth – exhibit motions which can be mildly observed but not truly understood, until impacted by calculus. (You can’t even know what the standard is, for understanding, until seeing what the mathematics shows you!) We’ll discover beautiful, underlying geometric pictures, such as that of the inertia ellipsoid with the Poinsot cones, and how these esoteric visuals actually do inform the object’s physical motion. This talk is meant to both trouble and excite the skeptic. At first encounter, one probably should think that integral mass is an unnatural wedding of mathematics to physics. How can a number encode matter and all that it is? We’ll see these models, as accurate as they are, are founded wholly upon it.

October 30: Michael Northington
Title: The Netflix Prize
Abstract: Have you ever wondered how Netflix, Amazon, and other websites recommend movies, books, etc to users? Although we see recommendations every time we go online, there is actually a lot of mathematics and computation going on behind the scenes. In fact, in 2006, Netflix offered a one million dollar prize to whoever could improve their current recommendation method by at least 10%. They also offered $50,000 prizes for smaller improvements to the method until the 10% mark was reached. In this talk, we will discuss the history of the Netflix Prize and look at some of the basic techniques used in these methods.

November 6: Matthew 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 13: Nathan Habegger
Title: Quantum Everything
Abstract: One day in 1984, my friend from my grad school days in Geneva, Switzerland, Vaughan Jones, announced to me that he had discovered a polynomial for knots. I first wondered what all the hubub surrounding his discovery was about, but all that changed for me in 1987, when a physicist named Ed Witten explained that the Jones Polynomial was best regarded in the light of Quantum Field Theory (For their separate contributions, Vaughan and Ed both received the Field’s Medal).
You should come to this lecture hoping to get an introduction to higher math, physics, and computer science, and how they are related (In fact, even biologists and organic chemists have gotten interested in Vaughan’s polynomial, since strings of DNA can get entangled, but I won’t have time to talk about that). But don’t be scared. I will try to keep things as elementary as possible. And then the fun starts. You can go home and teach your little brother or sister to calculate (a version of) the Jones polynomial. You can tell your Mom and Dad that the hydrogen atom is not like the moon and the earth, but more like a cloudy day all around the earth, and that even Einstein made mistakes. And you can tell your friends that you hope to beat Bill Gates (and maybe even become rich) by starting now to work on the Quantum Computer.