Author Archives: yenergy

Mathematics and Burning Man

This morning when I came in to the JMM I ran into a friend, who promptly said hello to Satyan Devadoss and made him drop all of his papers. He was delightful about the encounter as we helped him pick up everything.  He was even more delightful a few hours later in the first MAA Contributed Paper Session on Mathematics and the Arts, when he and coauthor Diane Hoffoss presented their “Unfolding Humanity” project.

The $45,000, 6500 person-hour project was based on an idea from three University of San Diego undergraduates who had taken Devadoss’s fall 2018 geometry course. As Devadoss put it,

The nerdiness for all this comes for us as how do we build a large-scale sculpture based on unsolved mathematics?

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Personal reflections from the 2019 JMM- Yen Duong

When I first met my husband, he had just attended the wedding of his ex-girlfriend of six years.  He told me about that unsteady Sliding Doors– type feeling during the toasts and comments about the bride, because he knew all of those inside jokes and funny quirks that make her so lovable (and she is great!) It’s a “that could’ve been me” feeling- not a “that should be me”, but just, if the sun came out a minute later one day or the toast wasn’t burned another day or you had stopped to talk to that student, everything could’ve been different.  That’s an approximation of how I’ve felt at these meetings.

Hi! I’m Yen, professional writer and JMM 2019 blogger and also math Ph.D. An old REU friend I hadn’t seen in ten years asked me yesterday what piece I am most proud of, and I told her it was this one in the Notices:

So, true to form, I’ll write about my innermost personal thoughts in a public forum. Read more »

AAAS Fellowships

Karen Saxe kicks us off for this late-afternoon session talking about many AMS-sponsored fellowships in Washington, D.C.  The first one is the Congressional Fellowship, where AMS chooses exactly 1 math Ph.D. per year to spend a year on the staff of a Congress member.


The last on her list was the Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, which will have three folks doing data science for a year in the US.  She mentioned the Mass Media Fellowship and the Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering Workshop as well.

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Dan Spielman: Miracles of algebraic graph theory

I’m at this talk by Dan Spielman of Yale University, who’s trying to give us an introduction to spectral and algebraic graph theory.  I’m here because he was my friend’s undergraduate advisor and my friend said that “Professor Dan” is great!  Dan has won a ton of fancy prizes and there are so many people in the audience to watch him.

This talk wove together computer science, graph theory, physics in a very engaging manner.  It was a lot of fun, and any errors in this blog post are mine alone, which is embarrassing because I should know a fair amount of spectral graph theory and group theory (I even did my senior math seminar at Yale in spectral graph theory in 2010.  Woof.)

In spectral graph theory, we relate graphs to matrices.  The first example is an adjacency matrix , where you label the vertices of a graph and then use those labels as row/column labels for a square matrix, and put a “0” when there is no edge between the corresponding vertices, and a “1” if there is such an edge.

Dan: “I think it’s an accident that the adjacency matrix is useful.” He’ll go on to talk about associated matrices, linear equations, quadratic forms, and operators that are less accidental.

Quadratic forms give us some beautiful theorems about graphs.

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A mathematical journey of culture, community, and collaboration

Good morning! It’s 9 AM and there are plenty of people out here to see the Friday MAA invited address. Alicia Prieto Langarica, who we saw at the session she organized yesterday (lots of posts: Equity in the Mathematics Classroom, Facing the Mirror, Undergraduate Research as the Greatest Equalizer, Math Mama Stories, and LATHISMS) gave a warm introduction of the “frankly astounding” Williams College professor, Pamela Harris.

Shoot, I accidentally sat right next to Anna Haensch, who was also planning on blogging and who co-writes the great AMS Blog on Math Blogs.  Well, I’m taking it.  Also, it was nice to meet Anna!  We’ve talked on the internet but haven’t met before. And Adriana Salerno, the editor of this blog, live-tweeted the talk.

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How to Talk about Math so People Want to Listen

Paul Zorn at St. Olaf College of the MAA Science Committee introduced Rachel Levy, the MAA Deputy Executive Director, and she then introduced Flora Lichtman, the host of Every Little Thing on Gimlet Media (she used to work for Science Friday). Flora, a non-math person and a professional nerdy journalist, told us:

The overarching picture is that telling stories is really hard.

Flora told us that there were three keys to talking about math so people want to listen.  It turned out that a lot of people want to talk about math so people want to listen!  It was a very crowded room.

I ended up on the floor in the very front, hence the angles for the photos…

  1. Who’s your audience?
  2. What’s your hook?
  3. What are your visuals?

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LATHISMS: MAA Invited Paper Session on Inspiring Diversity in Mathematics: Culture, Community, and Collaboration, talk #7

Hi folks. I’m tired. This is the last talk in the series. Gabriel E Sosa of Amherst College is talking about:

LATHISMS: showcasing the contributions of Latinx and Hispanics to the mathematical sciences

Gabriel talked about his experience in graduate school and awakening to the fact that there weren’t that many well-known women in mathematics. He talked about Noether, and enjoying this poster by the AMS of women in mathematics:

Gabriel kept the audience cracking up with his relatable story of how he ended up creating the LATHISMS program, which involved a TurboTax commercial and hanging out with new friends. LATHISMS stands for something like LATinxs and HISpanics in the Mathematical Sciences.

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Math Mamas: MAA Invited Paper Session on Inspiring Diversity in Mathematics: Culture, Community, and Collaboration, talk #6

Reporting from the floor for #4 in this live-blogging series. Carrie Diaz Eaton of Bates College introduced the series. Speakers are Becky E. Hall of Western Connecticut State University, Eaton, Piper Harron, and Eaton read an excerpt from Elizabeth Gross.

Two Math Mamas Tell Their Stories

The name of this talk isn’t quite right, since they have several other math mamas tell their stories. But it’s great! If you didn’t know, I (Yen) identify strongly with this session since I had two kids while getting my Ph.D.

This grass roots group of math mamas grew from a Facebook group and now includes an AMS Blog series, the website and a special July 2018 issue of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, which I personally highly recommend.

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Undergraduate Research as an Equalizer: MAA Invited Paper Session on Inspiring Diversity in Mathematics: Culture, Community, and Collaboration, talk #5

Alicia Prieto Langarica of Youngstown State University, who also co-organized this session, started her talk by telling us that she wouldn’t use the words “diversity” or “equity” or “Latinx” etc. and challenged us audience members to think about why she wouldn’t be using these words.

I’m a little frazzled right now because I live-blogged the last two talks and I ran off to see a friend talk in the HBCU session, but his flight was delayed so then I ran back to go to this session.  Alicia is trying to push the audience into talking and interacting and it is delightful.

Here are posts #1 and #2 in this series:

MAA Invited Paper Session on Inspiring Diversity in Mathematics: Culture, Community, and Collaboration, talk #3

MAA Invited Paper Session on Inspiring Diversity in Mathematics: Culture, Community, and Collaboration, talk #4

Undergraduate Research as the Greatest Equalizer

She opened with a series of statistics: about half of the people who intend to be math majors end up dropping out, and about 10% of math B.A.s end up going on to get a math Ph.D. (but not really, because the number of math Ph.D.s also includes international students. So the actual ratio is much lower.)

If the math major is preparing students to be academic mathematicians, then of course students won’t major in math. But people in industry do want mathematicians and students who can think logically and mathematically competently and who can translate real life problems into math problems, who have communication skills who can work with others.  So how can we mathematicians help students prepare for careers in industry, by using our tools of mathematics research?

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Facing the Mirror: Acknowledgment in our Practice: MAA Invited Paper Session on Inspiring Diversity in Mathematics: Culture, Community, and Collaboration, talk #4

I had some technical difficulties and we’ve unfortunately lost the first few minutes of Aris Benjamin Winger of Georgia Gwinnett College, who co-facilitated the program in the last post. I remember that he discussed creating a safe space to talk about race and equity and mathematics on campus as well.

Facing the Mirror: Acknowledgement in our Practices

In his talk, Aris called out the audience (in a good way) to acknowledge our own biases and our own fraught histories with racism, sexism, and treating students in a disparate manner.

We don’t get to pick how people show up in front of us. We don’t get to pick our initial reaction to them.

Aris showed us a slide of three different people, a black man, a white man, and a black woman in six different outfits and styling.

“We treat people differently based on how they look,” he said. “We treat people who are white differently from people of color.”

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