The last day of the JMM, as Anna mentioned in her post, is the unceremonious end to a whirlwind affair. At least I was able to attend two amazing talks and say goodbye to a few people.
First, I attended Robert Devaney’s MAA retiring Presidential address, on Cantor and Sierpinski, Julia and Fatou: Crazy topology in complex dynamics. In this talk, Devaney showed us three examples to illustrate a Theorem. The theorem read “Planar topologists are crazy.” It was cool to see, through progressions of pictures, how one builds a Cantor bouquet, indecomposable continua, and Sierpinski curves. I recommend you read his article on the AMS Notices from January 2004 for more details related to the talk and all the pretty pictures. These examples were varied in that in some cases (like with the Knaster continuum) the dynamics is simple but the topology is not at all understood, whereas with Sierpinski curves, one gets many examples of Julia sets that are the same topologically but very different dynamically, and classifying the dynamics is still very difficult. He ended with a Corollary: Yes, planar topologists are crazy, but I sure wish I were one of them. My favorite quote, however, came from my friend Michelle Manes who was sitting next to me: “I hope David (her husband) gets me a Cantor bouquet for Valentine’s day.”
After this great talk, and a very delicious Mole enchilada lunch, I headed back to the Convention Center for my last talk of the JMM. This was the NAM Claytor-Woodard lecture, given by the awesome Talithia Williams, on A Statistician’s Guide to Becoming Your Body’s Expert. Edray Goins, newly-minted NAM President, introduced Williams and mentioned that this annual lecture is meant to highlight achievement by up-and-coming African American mathematicians. He also pointed the audience to this page on UPenn’s website, which tells the stories of Dudley Woodard and William Claytor, two pioneer African American mathematicians.
Williams’ lecture was very lively and interesting, and also pretty inspiring. I thought it was powerful how she got us to think about how Statistics can be used to understand our bodies and our health (intro stats class title idea: “Our Statistics, Our Selves”). If you think about it, these days we all collect data: miles you run, steps you take, calories you ate, blood pressure, how you sleep, your body temperature (especially for women trying to conceive). But you can use this data, for example, to improve your performance in a squash game, as in one of the many examples Williams shared. She also mentioned that different ways to interpret and even graph data might be useful for different things. But just as it was interesting to us to see this very natural application of statistics, Williams mentioned that this could be a real gateway for students into mathematics. There is indeed a lot of research on inclusive pedagogies, and how making the mathematics relevant to the person can increase participation from underrepresented groups and reduce math anxiety and stereotype threat. I thought this was the most exciting part of the talk, and I’m already thinking about how to include these ideas in a course (I wasn’t really kidding with the title above). At the end of the lecture, Goins offered Williams a plaque recognizing her work and contributions to mathematics. And one last cool thing, Williams gave a TED talk on the topic, so go watch it.
After this, I quietly disappeared and headed to the airport, back to real life and all that. According to the JMM newsletter, there were 6000 registered participants, and I hope you had safe travels back. Remember the Alamo, and to get your sweetie a Cantor bouquet on Valentine’s Day. Until the next one.