Monday, August 18, 2014

Real Mathematics!

I am gearing up for the fall semester here at Hopkins.  This fall, I am teaching our version of vector calculus (aka multivariable calulus), 110.202 Calculus III.  It is a great course, beautifully visual and quite subtle in many ways.  Good stuff! 

I sent out a "hello" email to my 300+ students, inviting them to check out the webpage and generally welcoming them to the course.  In this email, I say near the end:

Even though one may think of calculus as simply a math course where one learns some techniques for solving physics and statistics problems, it actually is much more than this.  Instead of simply learning techniques, we will be learning how and why the techniques even exist, what they say about the structure of mathematics like calculus, and how to think analytically and reason deductively and abstractly.  THIS is the real mathematics.  The techniques will come along for the ride.  You will learn those also. 
Perhaps the best way to drive this point home is the following:  It does not matter what your current and/or future major is or will be.  You are here at Hopkins to train to be a scholar at something.  Part of that training includes proficient and efficient understanding of the abstract logical structural framework found in all complex ideas and constructions.  This is really what mathematics is.  We typically use numbers and operations on those numbers to study and exhibit mathematical ideas because they provide the self-consistent framework needed for the study.  I will say a lot more about this on the first day of class. 
Perhaps this is one of my personal definitions of mathematics.  But I like it.  Make sense?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Math in the Media: Finally!! A female Fields Medalist....

Well, I am back and in time for a new semester here at Hopkins.  And I am back with some very nice news. 

The next recipients of one of our field's top honors, the Fields Medal, includes Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian born mathematician at Stanford University.  She is a dynamicist (a mathematician whose field of study is dynamical systems) and the first woman to receive this prize since its inception in 1936.  She shares the prize this year (the prize is given out every four years) with three other mathematicians, listed in this article in the New York Times
Top Math Prize Has Its First Female Winner.
And while there should be nothing special about a woman receiving the prize (math is hardly a gender-specific endeavor), I do have sort of a glass-ceiling-breaking-moment feeling here.  Congratulations, Professor and Professors!  Here's to more outstanding math research.

And here is another nice write up of this event and her contributions to mathematics.