Author Archives: annahaensch

A Night of Receptions!

Last night was one of those magical JMM nights of hopping from receptions to repletion. Somehow we made it though this labyrinth of hotels to attend the reception for Mathematical Reviews, something I started doing a few years ago and absolutely love. Next we hit up the poster session and reception for the AWM. And finally, our night ended at the fabulous Project NExT reception, where there was blessedly a great spread bread and cheese. Below are a few photos from the night.

James Ricci (Daemen College) and Justin Sawon (U. of N. Carolina Chapel Hill) chat with Ursula Witcher (AMS) about her work with the AMS Math Reviews.

James Ricci (Daemen College) and Justin Sawon (U. of N. Carolina Chapel Hill) chat with Ursula Witcher (AMS) about her work with the AMS Math Reviews.

Graduate student Alicia Marino (Wesleyan University) presents her results at the AWM poster session last night.

Graduate student Alicia Marino (Wesleyan University) presents her results at the AWM poster session last night.

Francis Su addresses the assembled NExTers at last night's reception. He reminds us "Find someone, and be their advocate!"

Francis Su addresses the assembled NExTers at last night’s reception. He reminds us “Find someone, and be their advocate!”

Green Dot Ben Linowitz (Oberlin College), Brown Dot Lola Thompson (Oberlin College), and Gold Dot Anna Haensch (Duquesne University) catching up at the reception.

Green Dot Ben Linowitz (Oberlin College), Brown Dot Lola Thompson (Oberlin College), and Gold Dot Anna Haensch (Duquesne University) catching up at the reception.

Project NExT Director David Kung (St. Mary's College of Maryland) inspires us from atop a chair.

Project NExT Director David Kung (St. Mary’s College of Maryland) inspires us from atop a chair.

Local max and min at the Project NExT Reception.  Barry Minemyer (The Ohio State University), Bernadette Boyle (Sacred Heart University), and Andrew Lazowski (Sacred Heart University)

Local max and min at the Project NExT Reception. Barry Minemyer (The Ohio State University), Bernadette Boyle (Sacred Heart University), and Andrew Lazowski (Sacred Heart University)

Panel On Math And Creativity

Robert Schneider, Samuel Hansen, Anna Haensch, and Tim Chartier

Robert Schneider, Samuel Hansen, Anna Haensch, and Tim Chartier

This morning I was on a panel about math and creativity with two wonderful panelists. One was Tim Chartier (Davidson College) who spoke about his journey as a mathematical mime. The other was Robert Schneider (Emory University) who talked about his experiences as a musician and composer. I was on the panel in the capacity of podcaster, and I suppose a general mathematical storyteller. The panel was moderated by Samuel Hansen the podcaster behind Relatively Prime.

It was so wonderful to hear Schneider and Chartier talk about their own journeys of mathematical creativity. We all had some goal in common, that Chartier expressed very eloquently. We, as mimes, musicians, and storytellers, are really creating models of mathematical ideas. Not to be confused with mathematical models. But the things we create are meant to represent an idea in math, if not rigorously capture it. As a mathematical communicator this is always somewhat of a delicate issue. Professionally, we know that math is meaningless without rigor, but creatively, we know it’s possible to still capture some of the beauty and excitement of math if we just file down the edges a bit.

What became obvious to me on this panel, was also that each of us seems to be doing what comes naturally to us. Whether making music, miming, or telling stories, it seems like each of us had just found a way to capture and package the mathematical things that we would be doing anyways.

Terrence Tao and the Erdős Discrepancy Problem

Kannan Soundararajan talks about Terrence Tao's solution to the Erdős Discrepancy Problem.

Kannan Soundararajan talks about Terrence Tao’s solution to the Erdős Discrepancy Problem.

I just came from one of the afternoon talks of the Current Events Bulletin. This series of lectures has been going on at the JMM since 2003 and they are always tremendously well done. The idea is to present a reasonably entry level view of a trendy research topic from the past year, presented by someone who didn’t actually do the research. This year I saw Kannan Soundararajan (Stanford University) present on Terrence Tao’s (UCLA) work on the Erdős Discrepancy Problem.

Imagine you are on an infinite walkway that bends back and forth, with a pit of snakes on each side. You need to decide to turn right or left as you walk to avoid falling into the pit of snakes. Is there any way to determine where you’ll end up? Now remove the snake put and add an 80 year old question in mathematics, and you’re looking at the Erdős Discrepancy Problem.

I blogged about this breakthrough several months ago, you can read it here at the AMS blog on math blogs. But in a nutshell, the problem asks if that partial sums of a completely multiplicative function f, that is f(mn)=f(m)f(n), from the natural numbers to {±1} are unbounded. And the answer, as shown by Tao and reported today by Soundararajan is YES!

For a short explanation of the methods of proof (which I won’t attempt here), check out Soundararajan’s article in the Current Events Bulletin booklet. As with many mathematical results, it’s not always the result itself that’s so valuable, but sometimes the techniques developed, or the implications of the results. And Soundararajan said as much during his talk, remarking “Tao’s proof of the the Erdős Discrepancy Problem is the opposite of the canary in the coal mine.” The canary means bad things are going to happen, and this proof likely means good things are going to happen.

If you’re looking for good things to do this evening, the AWM Poster Session is this evening 6:00-7:15 in Marquis Ballroom Prefunction, Marquis Level, Marriott Marquis, and Mathematically Bent Theater is from 6:00 to 7:00 in the Regency Ballroom VII, Ballroom Level, Hyatt Regency.

The Exhibitor Angle

There is so much happening at the JMM! Math talks, panels, receptions, and really long lines at Starbucks. But there’s more! Over in the Hyatt, down a series of escalators is the world of the exhibitors.

On Wednesday the joints heads of the societies of the JMM cut the ribbon on the exhibit hall.

Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Don’t get too excited, that’s sparking apple cider in those champagne flutes. The event was to celebrate the naming of Catherine A. Roberts as the new executive director of the AMS.

Today I had a chance to meet with several exhibitors from Cengage for a focus group on basic skills and student preparedness. I always love participating in these focus groups. They typically bring together a group of 10 faculty from diverse institutions to talk about the hot topic of the day with the goal of improving their textbooks and online supplementary course materials. Today we talked about basic skills, and how to serve students form diverse background. The STEM vs. non-STEM divide, and even within STEM the STE vs M divide. One other group member commented at the end, “wow, this was really great, I’m not sure what I learned here, but it’s good to know I’m not alone.” Several publishers host these focus groups at the JMM each year, and if it’s something you’re interested in you should try to get on board for one next year.

All that Sage swag.

All that Sage swag.

The exhibit hall is also a great place to get swag to trick out your name tag. I always make sure to stop by the Sage booth for their (now scratch resistant) stickers and a gold dot for Project NExT. I think there’s also (almost always) free coffee down in the exhibit hall, and you’re guaranteed to run into fun people if you wander around for a few moments.

Panel On Mentoring

It’s a bit after the fact, but I just wanted to say something brief about the AWM panel on Mentoring that I attended yesterday. Panelists were Helen Grundman (Bryn Mawr College and the AMS), Suzanne Weeks (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), Emina Soljanin (Rutgers University), Kristin Lauter (Microsoft Research), and Deanna Haunsberger (Carleton College). The panel was moderated by Michelle Manes (U. Hawaii), who by the way, just won the AWM Service Award!

Outgoing AWM President Kristin Lauter is a tireless champion of the AWM and its various programs for students chapters and faculty looking for mentors.  Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography

Outgoing AWM President Kristin Lauter is a tireless champion of the AWM and its various programs for students chapters and faculty looking for mentors. Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography

Suzanne Weekes has done great work connecting students with careers in industrial math. Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography

Suzanne Weekes has done great work connecting students with careers in industrial math. Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography

The purpose of the panel was to discuss mentoring at all levels. There was some talk about establishing a mentor as a junior faculty member. To this end, Lauter reminded us of the AWM Mentoring Travel Grant. There was a also a good deal of talk on mentoring undergraduate students, particularly those very bight ones who you have an aptitude for research but for whatever reason aren’t ready to take the plunge. I thought Grundman gave a piece of very good advice, so I want to share it here. If you see a student with tremendous aptitude and you suspect they would succeed (and probably enjoy) graduate studies, have the take the GRE’s and establish letters of recommendation before they graduate from their bachelor’s degree. The energy required to ask for reference letters after being out of school for a year or two can often be the biggest deterrent to future studies, so take that right off the table. It seems like obvious advice, but I hadn’t every thought of it so succinctly.

Tomorrow I’m really looking forward to the AMS Committee on Science Policy Panel Discussion Grassroots Advocacy for Mathematics and Science Policy.

The Joint Prize Session

It is always such an inspiration to hear about the incredible bodies of work that people have generated over their careers in research, teaching, and service to the profession. Today we celebrated mathematicians young and old who have made significant contributions to our mathematical world.

Francis Su presents Martha J. Siegel with the MAA, the Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr. Charles Y. Hu Award for Distinguished Service in Mathematics.  Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Francis Su presents Martha J. Siegel with the MAA, the Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr. Charles Y. Hu Award for Distinguished Service in Mathematics. Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Outgoing MAA President Francis Su presented Janet Heine Barnett, Caren Diefenderfer, and Tevian Dray with the Haimo Award for Distinguished Teaching, and Martha J. Siegel with the most prestigious award of the MAA, the Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr. Charles Y. Hu Award for Distinguished Service in Mathematics. Su also presented the Frank and Brennie Morgan Prize which is given to recognize and encourage outstanding mathematical research by undergraduate students; the winner, David Yang, and honorable mention, Aaron Landesman, will both be giving talks tomorrow. Su also awarded Siobhan Roberts and Art Benjamin for their fantastic work in mathematical media and outreach. More details about the MAA awards can be found on the MAA website.

Outgoing AWM president Kristin Lauter presents Emmy Murphy with the Joan & Joseph Birman Research Prize in Topology and Geometry.  Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Outgoing AWM president Kristin Lauter presents Emmy Murphy with the Joan & Joseph Birman Research Prize in Topology and Geometry. Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Kristin Lauter also took the stage to present Emmy Murphy with the Joan and Joseph Birman Award for Reasharch in Topology and Geometry, to present Cathy Kessel with the Louise Hay Award, and to present Helen Grundman with the M. Gwyneth Humphreys Award. This award was given to Grundman in large part for her work as an outstanding mentor of the years, an experience that she spoke about so eloquently in the AWM Panel on Mentoring yesterday. More information about the AWM Prizes can be found at the AWM website.

The Frank Nelson Cole Prize in Number Theory was awarded to Henri Darmon. Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

The Frank Nelson Cole Prize in Number Theory was awarded to Henri Darmon. Photo Credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography.

Next AMS President Robert L. Bryant presented John Friedlander and Henryk Iwaniec with the Joseph L. Doob Prize for their book Opera de Cribro, which was received with a truly touching thank you speak by Iwaniec on the 45th anniversary of his marriage to his wife. Information on the other AMS Prizes More information on the AMS prizes can be found on the AMS website.

Many warm congratulation to all of the prize winners today! And in case you missed the joint prize session, you can still make it to the reception which is starting at 5:30 outside of the atrium ballroom at the Marriot.

The Mathematics And Mathematicians Of Hidden Figures

Right now I’m sitting in a packed room for the Special Presentation on Hidden Figures. The book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly — which will be coming out as a film this Friday — tells previously untold story about the black women mathematicians who worked for NASA and “helped win the space race,” and this presentation is set to tell us the story of the mathematics and mathematicians behind the book.

Standing room only at the special session on Hidden Figures.

Standing room only at the special session on Hidden Figures.

Tanya Moore, board member of Building Diversity in Science, is our MC for the night.

Tanya Moore, board member of Building Diversity in Science, is our MC for the night.

Margot Lee Shetterly addresses the room to tell us about the incredible women of Hidden Figures.

Margot Lee Shetterly addresses the room to tell us about the incredible women of Hidden Figures. In the prologue to the book she writes, “what I wanted was for them to have the grand sweeping narrative they deserved.”

Shetterly starts us off with a brief recounting of the women of the book, illuminating their struggles and successes, telling the packed room, “Hidden Figures is a book about people like you who answered the call of the numbers.”

Next we have Ulrica Wilson, co-director of the Edge Program for women, to tell us about the history of Dorothy Hoover, the “other Dorothy” of Hidden Figures. Wilson gives a a quick peek at Hoover’s work in static-pitching derivatives and other computations involving the mathematics of airplane wing shapes.

Following that, Dr. Christine Darden,, who worked at NASA roughly 20 years after the women in Hidden Figures tells us about standing on the shoulders of women before her to achieve so much success at Langley. She talks about working as a computer with the engineers at NASA, sometimes being handed small parts of problems not being shown the big picture. Being familiar with the mathematics of engineering (although blocked out of the Engineering work groups since she was a woman), Darden notes that engineers and mathematicians aren’t that different, except “the theoretical engineer will sometimes make approximations so they can solve the system.” Eventually Darden would be transferred to an engineering section, where she was promoted and totally kicked butt.

Ulrica Wilson tells the incredible history of Dorothy Hoover, a human computer at NASA in the 1960's.

Ulrica Wilson tells the incredible history of Dorothy Hoover, a human computer at NASA in the 1960’s.

Dr. Christine Darden, who worked at the NASA Sonic Boom Team, was the first African American at NASA to be promoted to the senior executive level.

Dr. Christine Darden, who worked at the NASA Sonic Boom Team, was the first African American at NASA to be promoted to the senior executive level.

Now my final event for tonight is the AWM Reception and Awards Presentation tonight at 9:30 in Imperial Ballroom B, Marquis Level of the Marriot.

Be Curious, Not Furious!

Whew, I made it. This place is confusing, so before I talk math, let me quickly tell you everything I know about the geography of the JMM. The meetings are taking place mostly in the Marriott, which is connected to the Hyatt (at the atrium level at the Marriott, lobby level at the Hyatt) and connected to the Hilton (atrium level at the Hilton, atrium level at the Marriott). Registration is in the Hyatt and most of the talks are in the Marriott. Also, to make things even more confusing, restaurants for lunch are in the Peachtree Center, which is connected to the Hyatt at…some level. So, somehow you can get between all of the hotels and restaurants without going outside. But it’s confusing. But that’s why we’re here right, we like to solve puzzles!

Alive Silverberg is introduced by Karl Rubin.

Alive Silverberg is introduced by Karl Rubin.

On that note, I just came from Alice Silverberg’s Invited Address, “Through the Cryptographer’s Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.” Silverberg gave a wonderful talk about pairing based cryptography, like the Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange and higher order analogues. She talked about the relationships between key exchanges, the quest for efficiently computable multilinear maps, and the discrete log problem: if you can solve one, you get the others for free.

Since in its essence, the purpose of cryptography is communication, Silverberg closed her talk with a few moments in praise of good communication, and the importance of listening and being kind. Playing on the title of a book written by Marty Hellman (of Diffie-Hellman) and his wife, Silverberg reminded in “Be curious, not furious.” Especially when you write or read a referee report. Curious, not furious. Got it.

Now I’m off to do some many more wonderful things to feed my curiosity, first up the AWM Panel on Mentoring Women in Mathematics in A707, Atrium Level, Marriott Marquis.

Later today I’m looking forward to the special panel on the Mathematicians and Mathematics in Hidden Figures in A704, Atrium Level, Marriott Marquis.