Visual effects to highlight annual mathematics lecture
By Thompson Perry
A picture is worth a thousand words. Later this month, the University of Louisville Math Department wants to prove it.
Each year since 1993, U of L’s Math Department has hosted a speech from a nationally-recognized expert mathematician.
According to U of L’s mathematics Web site, the event, known as the Bullitt Lecture, has in recent years hosted “talented high school students, area professionals, and other parties interested in the impact and excitement that mathematics has generated.”
This year’s lecture will be held on March 29 in Ernst Hall’s Williams Auditorium at 7 p.m.
The distinguished speaker for the event will be Dr. Roger Nelsen, professor of mathematics at Lewis and Clarke College and author of the books “Proofs Without Words” and “Proofs Without Words II.”
A graduate of Duke University, Nelsen is considered an authority on the subjects of mathematical statistics and the process of using visualizations in mathematics.
The core concept behind Nelsen’s books is that drawings can help explain mathematical ideas and proofs.
In his work, Nelsen provides pictures and diagrams that make it simpler for others to see why a mathematical statement is true.
The visual clues employed by Nelsen stimulate mathematical thought by providing a visual analogy of sorts.
“I think that a lot of people learn math visually,” said Ryan Keen, a sophomore math major, “so it’s a really good idea to have pictures help them along. It’s almost like the number lines that every elementary school classroom used to have hanging on the wall.
“Lots of people who are visual learners have trouble with math because math is all about abstractions,” Keen said.
Through his trademark use of images and visuals, and using the Fubini Principle, Nelsen will “show how this idea sheds light on mathematical questions from combinatorics, geometry, calculus and fast food.”
If the Fubini Principle sounds intimidating, it shouldn’t.
According to Dr. Steven Seif, associate professor of mathematics at U of L, the speech will be delivered at a manageable pace for the entire audience. “There are no ‘prerequisites,’ other than some interest and/or curiosity about math,” Seif said.
“Our speaker, Dr. Roger Nelsen, is a first-rate presenter, and he is really good at presenting interesting math to non-specialists. That’s one reason we chose him to be the 2007 Bullitt lecturer.”
In recent years, the Bullitt Lecture has boasted audiences of 200-500 people. Admission is free and open to the public, and everyone is welcome to attend.
Endowed by a grant from the family of William Marshall Bullitt who served as the Solicitor General of the U.S. and received his law degree at U of L, the 14th annual William Marshall Bullitt Lecture hopes to, yet again, attract a large audience to entertain and enlighten.
“The main goal is to bring U of L students and the community at large a view of the new, and interesting and exciting things going on in the world of mathematics,” Seif said.
“We find that students and others have a good time, have the chance to ask the speaker questions and leave the lecture more inspired than ever.”