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Past MAA Distinguished Lectures

  Eitan Grinspun
  6:30 PM - March 1, 2017

  MAA Carriage House
  1781 Church St. NW
  Washington, D.C. 20036



Abstract: Blockbuster films have amazing visual effects. Virtual stunt doubles, animated characters, and imaginary creatures are built from mathematical models of hair, fur, skin, and clothing. Explosions, floods, and disasters that would be dangerous if not impossible to film in real life are instead simulated on computers using mathematical models of fracture, fire, granular media, and liquids. This is the world of applied mathematics with an artistic flair. In this talk aimed at the general audience, I will expose various aspects of movie magic, and the exciting mathematical questions that arise.

Biography: Eitan Grinspun is Associate Professor of Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at Columbia University in the City of New York, and Co-Director of the Columbia Computer Graphics Group. He was Professeur d'Université Invité at l'Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris in 2009, a Research Scientist at the Courant Institute from 2003-2004, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology from 1997-2003, and an undergraduate in Engineering Science at the University of Toronto from 1993-1997. He was named an NVIDIA Fellow in 2001, Everhart Distinguished Lecturer in 2003, NSF CAREER Awardee in 2007, Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in 2010-2012, one of Popular Science magazine's "Brilliant Ten Scientists" in 2011, and one of Fast Company magazine's "Most Creative People in Business" in 2013. Technologies developed by his lab are used in products such as Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator, at major film studios and recent films such as Moana, and in basic condensed matter and engineering research. He has been profiled in The New York Times, Scientific American, New Scientist, and mentioned in Variety. His recent film credits include The Hobbit, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin.

If you want to read more about Eitan Grinspun's lecture, click here.

If you want to watch a video summary of Eitan Grinspun's lecture, click here.

  Fred Rickey
  6:30 PM - February 22, 2017

  MAA Carriage House
  1781 Church St. NW
  Washington, D.C. 20036



Abstract: Most of us are aware that our first president was a surveyor in his younger days, but how did he learn that lucrative trade? Fortunately we can give an informed answer to this question as he compiled two notebooks - cyphering books - as a teenager that show what he learned about geometry, decimal arithmetic, and surveying. Although available for decades this material has never been carefully studied. We shall present a sampling of the arithmetic and geometry that Washington studied and then concentrate on how surveying was done in seventeenth century Virginia. We will describe what the surveyor did in the field and how the final plats were prepared. This illustrated presentation will appeal to a wide audience.

Biography: Fred Rickey is a historian of mathematics who began his mathematical life as a logician. After 43 years of teaching at Bowling Green State University and the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, he retired as he could not get any work done while working. Now, instead of grading calculus papers, he devotes his time to research on the history of mathematics.

His paper "Isaac Newton, Man, Myth, and Mathematics" received the George Polya Award for expository writing in mathematics. He received one of the first Haimo Awards from the MAA for distinguished university teaching. In 1994-1995 he was a Visiting Mathematician at MAA HQ where he built the first gopher, a precursor of the web, for the MAA. Also that year he wrote a successful NSF proposal for The Institute on the History of Mathematics and Its Use in Teaching (IHMT), which prepared several dozen college teachers to teach history of mathematics courses.

Needless to say, he delights in sharing his knowledge of the history of mathematics with all who are interested.

Tuesday, November 1
6:00 - 7:30pm

MAA Carriage House
1781 Church St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036

About Celebration of Mind

The Celebration of Mind uses puzzles, games, and magic to delight, instruct, and bring people together in a spirit of fun, both at annual gatherings and as a year-round repository of resources. As Martin Gardner said, you can learn more when you’re in a state of entrancement, and that’s our guiding principle. On and around October 21 every year, Celebration of Mind events all over the world share the legacy and many interests of this prolific, accessible American writer, who introduced general audiences to many fascinating topics in mathematics and science over a 50-year period . In the process we continue to create and collect resources that inspire new generations to explore a wide range of intellectual pursuits, and their intersections.

Algorithmic Puzzles and Martin Gardner

Dana Richards
George Mason University

The vast majority of mathematical puzzles ask for the existence of a solution. It is merely an exercise when the method is known and it is more of a puzzle when the method is not clear. An algorithmic puzzle takes this further by only asking for the method itself or a property of the method. It is in this sense that much of computer science is puzzle solving. We discuss the theory behind this in the context of material taken from Martin Gardner’s Scientific American column. The answer to the following puzzle will be given:

There are five pirates dividing up 100 gold coins. Pirates are strictly ordered by seniority, are very logical, and wish to live. The rule pirates use to divide gold is: (1) the most senior pirate suggests a division, (2) all pirates vote on it, (3) if at least half vote for it then it is done, otherwise the senior pirate is killed and the process starts over. What happens?

About Dana Richards
Dana Richards is an associate professor of Computer Science at George Mason University. His research is on theoretical and algorithmic topics. He has been a friend of Martin Gardner for nearly four decades and has edited Gardner’s book, The Colossal Book of Short Puzzles and Problems.

Hands on Puzzles!

After the lecture by Dana Richards, guests will be invited to break into smaller groups in order to engage in some hands-on puzzles provided by Bill Ritchie of ThinkFun.

About Bill Ritchie
Bill Ritchie is president and co-founder of ThinkFun, for over 30 years the world’s leading maker of logic puzzles and mind challenging games. He is responsible for the company’s strategic direction and new product development. A lifelong entrepreneur, Bill was the founding president of the World Entrepreneurs’ Organization and is the first recipient of the Sam Loyd Award, presented by the American Game and Puzzle Collectors for outstanding entrepreneurial promotion of mechanical puzzles. His personal passion is using games to teach thinking skills and improve reasoning abilities.

Moon Duchin
6:30 PM - October 24, 2016

MAA Carriage House
1781 Church St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036




Abstract: With the election just over two weeks away, maybe it's a good time to step back from the horse-race coverage and think about the mathematical fundamentals!  Voting is actually a really hard math problem:  how do you fairly aggregate the preferences of millions of people into a single authoritative outcome?  In this talk, I'll try to weave together math, politics, and civil rights to tell a collection of different stories clustered around the idea of "one person, one vote."

Biography: Moon Duchin is an associate professor of Mathematics at Tufts University and is the founding director of Tufts' new interdisciplinary Program in Science, Technology, and Society, which spans scholarly approaches to putting science in social context.  She has degrees in math and women's studies and a long-standing interest in the history, philosophy, and anthropology of science.  In math, her work is in low-dimensional geometric topology, geometric group theory, and dynamics.  She lectures widely on her research and engages in educational outreach to all ages of students, with a particular focus on broadening participation in mathematics.  She has a PhD from the University of Chicago, a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation, and recently served as a plenary speaker for the American Mathematical Society.

If you want to read more about Moon Duchin's lecture, click here.

If you want to watch a video summary of Moon Duchin's lecture, click here.

Ken Ono
6:30 PM - October 13, 2016

MAA Carriage House

1781 Church St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036



Abstract: Ramanujan's work has has a truly transformative effect on modern mathematics, and continues to do so as we understand further lines from his letters and notebooks. In this lecture, some of the studies of Ramanujan that are most accessible to the general public will be presented and how Ramanujan's findings fundamentally changed modern mathematics, and also influenced the lecturer's work, will be discussed. The speaker is an Associate Producer of the film The Man Who Knew Infinity (starring Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons) about Ramanujan. He will share several clips from the film in the lecture.

Biography: Ken Ono is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Mathematics at Emory University. He is considered to be an expert in the theory of integer partitions and modular forms. He has been invited to speak to audiences all over North America, Asia and Europe. His contributions include several monographs and over 150 research and popular articles in number theory, combinatorics and algebra. He received his Ph.D. from UCLA and has received many awards for his research in number theory, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Packard Fellowship and a Sloan Fellowship. He was awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering (PECASE) by Bill Clinton in 2000 and he was named the National Science Foundation’s Distinguished Teaching Scholar in 2005. In addition to being a thesis advisor and postdoctoral mentor, he has also mentored dozens of undergraduates and high school students. He serves as Editor-in-Chief for several journals and is an editor of The Ramanujan Journal. Visit his web page at

If you want to read more about Ken Ono's lecture, click here.