A Special Special Session

Anna and I are not only co-bloggers extraordinaire, we also co-organized a Special Session titled “Discrete Structures in Number Theory” (the title was all Anna). We knew we had a good lineup from the time we started organizing, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how good our speakers were. The energy was extremely positive, the talks were interesting, and the whole event was just really fun. We also had several speakers who were on the job market, so I hope some of their interviewers came to their talks (*wink wink*).

From the organizational point of view, this was my first special session, and I must say it was a really fun process (of course, as you all know, Anna is great, and that helped).  I encourage all young mathematicians who have not yet organized a session to really consider doing it, it will be worth it! The deadline for an AMS Special Session is April 7, and you can go here. If you’d rather do an MAA Invited Paper Session, you have until March 15, and you can go here.

Favorite quotes/pictures from the session below.

First, a fun fact: Two of our afternoon speakers, Paul Pollack and Lola Thompson, are academic siblings (students of Carl Pomerance) and collaborators. Lesser known fact, Paul was able to train Lola’s guinea pigs to do some fun tricks! So now you know, even if you publish as much as Paul and give really good talks, you will only be as good if you’re an accomplished guinea pig trainer!

Christelle Vincent tells us about a project that she solved the previous night (again). "So this is not really that hard, you can probably do it in like 12 hours". I think she's being modest, but I appreciate the candor!

Christelle Vincent tells us about a project that she solved the previous night (again). “So this is not really that hard, you can probably do it in like 12 hours”. I think she’s being modest, but I appreciate the candor!

"If you can put a picture of the Mandelbrot set in your talk, you put a picture of the Mandelbrot set in your talk. " - John Doyle

“If you can put a picture of the Mandelbrot set in your talk, you put a picture of the Mandelbrot set in your talk. ” – John Doyle

aBa Mbirika explains a collaboration in terms a mathematician can understand. (Picture by Anna Haensch)

aBa Mbirika explains a collaboration in terms a mathematician can understand. (Picture by Anna Haensch)

MAA Undergraduate Poster Session

The JMM MAA Undergraduate Student Poster session!

The JMM MAA Undergraduate Student Poster session!

Undergrads are amazing these days!  At least at the MAA Undergraduate Student Poster Session, anyway.  Looking around at the over 200 posters, I came to the conclusion that I was a real underachiever in those days.  These students are doing really exciting things.  They are confident, they are polished, they are pretty much killing it. Here are a few scenes from the floor:

Shaquille Dixon of Costal Carolina University presented a poster on space filling curves. His project was inspired by a YouTube video, which got Shaquille thinking about how to change an image into an audible signal for the visually impaired.

Shaquille Dixon of Costal Carolina University presented a poster on space filling curves. His project was inspired by a YouTube video, which got Shaquille thinking about how to change an image into an audible signal for the visually impaired.

Anne Marie Crinnion, Harvard, explains her poster to Bjorn Poonen of MIT.

Anne Marie Crinnion, Harvard, explains her poster to Bjorn Poonen of MIT.  Anne Marie’s poster describes her work using graph theory to develop a model for human speech recognition.

Thayer Meyer, of Virginia Military Institute, began his poster with a very heavy question: "What is the shape of reality?"

Thayer Meyer, of Virginia Military Institute, began his poster with a very heavy question: “What is the shape of the universe?”

Kayla Perez of The Evergreen State College and Elsa Magness of Seattle University presented a poster on Knot Lineage. Their poster included their own REU work with Alison Heinrich and Brianna Zimmer on the Trefoil knot.

Kayla Perez of The Evergreen State College and Elsa Magness of Seattle University presented a poster on Knot Lineage. Their poster included their own REU work with Alison Heinrich and Brianna Zimmer on the Trefoil knot.

Three judges visited each poster and talked with the student.  The top posters will receive glory and fame tomorrow morning at 9 AM, and all students will get written feedback from the judges.  The MAA also  provided travel funding for select students to come to the JMM and present their posters.  Here, MAA Programs Coordinator Margaret Maurer and Dora Cardenas Ahmadi, also of the MAA, cut apart and sort the ballots.  Dora and Margaret swear that next year the ballots are going digital.

Dora Ahmadi and Margaret Maurer of the MAA processing the judging slips.

Dora Ahmadi and Margaret Maurer of the MAA processing the judging slips.

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.

JMM in One Minute

Feeling busy? Take a 30 second tour of the art exhibit:

 

And follow it up with a 30 second tour of the exhibit hall:

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.

The JMM Maze

I have been coming to the JMM for 9 years, but never have I been so confused by the locations of talks and the general layout of the meetings. There is an International Tower in the Hyatt and an International Level in the Marriott, there is an Atrium, a Lobby, but both could be either, there are too many Ballrooms to count, there are TWO food courts (which I found out about when trying to meet people for lunch at the food court)….

But don’t worry, I found an accurate map that might help. Best of luck out there! And remember there are TWO FOOD COURTS.

Escher's "Relativity".

Escher’s “Relativity”.

 

Friday!!

We are taking hot news tips on the retro newsroom phone...

We are taking hot news tips on the retro newsroom phone…

...and eating toasted bagels. This is the life.

…and eating toasted bagels. This is the life.

Starting off the second half of the JMM with bagels and coffee in the pressroom, because the line at Starbucks is yet again incredibly long.  The pressroom is extra deluxe today, as well–the caterers even brought a toaster for the bagels!

Lots of great events today.  Here are a few places that the JMM bloggers will be hanging out:

Francis Su’s MAA Retiring Presidential Address is sure to be awesome.  I mean, it’s entitled “Mathematics for Human Flourishing”–this is something I need to know about.  Friday, January 6, 2017, 9:00 a.m.-9:50 a.m. Atrium Ballroom, Atrium Level, Marriott Marquis Atlanta.

Anna Wienhard, Heidelberg University, gives an AMS Invited Address: “A Tale of Rigidity and Flexibility – Discrete Subgroups of Higher Rank Lie Groups”  Friday, January 6, 2017, 10:05 a.m.-10:55 a.m. Atrium Ballroom, Atrium Level, Marriott Marquis.

The Current Events Bulletin is a chance to learn about the most current developments in mathematics from expert mathematicians in different fields, presented for non-experts. According to founder David Eisenbud, “The Current Events Bulletin Session at the Joint Mathematics Meetings, begun in 2003, is an event where the speakers do not report on their own work, but survey some of the most interesting current developments in mathematics, pure and applied.  The wonderful tradition of the Bourbaki Seminar is an inspiration, but we aim for more accessible treatments and a wider range of subjects.”  These talks happen today, 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Imperial Ballroom A, Marquis Level, Marriott Marquis.

Public viewing of the MAA Undergraduate Student Poster Session takes place today, 4:30 p.m.-6:00 p.m. Marquis Ballroom, Marquis Level, Marriott Marquis.

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.

Previews of Upcoming Talks

The Joint Meetings are so full of exciting talks that it’s hard to figure out which ones to go to. To help out, we got a sneak preview of two upcoming talks that look fantastic.

Tomorrow morning (Friday, 9:00 a.m.) Francis Su will talk about “Mathematics for Human Flourishing” in the Marriott Atrium Ballroom

 

And on Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. James Tanton will talk about “Weird Ways to Multiply” in the Hyatt Regency Ballroom VII

 

There’s two morning math pick-me-ups for you enjoy!

 

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.