Wild About Math! Making Math fun and accessible

14Jan/131

Steven Strogatz – Inspired by Math #16

Shecky over at the Math Frolic Blog has been a great supporter of this podcast series and recently made this observation:

I've been pleasantly surprised by the degree to which 'math people,' including such prominent and busy ones as [Ian] Stewart, Keith Devlin, Steven Strogatz and others, are willing to share themselves with the learning community, through such online outlets. It is really wonderful, and I think a reflection of the desire on the part of mathematicians to transform their subject from one that is too-often feared to one for eager engagement.

Having had the opportunity to have a very pleasant and very informal conversation with Dr. Steven Strogatz this afternoon really brought home Shecky's point. Dr. Strogatz and others are making a difference by giving generously of their time to bloggers who aren't likely to reach as many people as their books will reach.

At the bottom of this post I feature two of Dr. Strogatz' books, "The Joy of x," published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and the lesser known but equally important book, "The Calculus of Friendship," published by the Princeton University Press. We discuss both in the podcast.

About Steven Strogatz

From Dr. Strogatz' web-site:
Steven Strogatz is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University. He holds a joint appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences (Mathematics) and the College of Engineering (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering).

After graduating summa cum laude in mathematics from Princeton in 1980, Strogatz studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He did his doctoral work in applied mathematics at Harvard, followed by a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard and Boston University. From 1989 to 1994, Strogatz taught in the Department of Mathematics at MIT. He joined the Cornell faculty in 1994.

He has received numerous awards for his research, teaching, and public service, including: a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation (1990); MIT's highest teaching prize, the E. M. Baker Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (1991); the J.P. and Mary Barger '50 Teaching Award (1997), the Robert '55 and Vanne '57 Cowie Teaching Award (2001), the Tau Beta Pi Teaching Award (2006), and the Swanson Teaching Award (2009), all from Cornell's College of Engineering; and the Communications Award from the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (2007), a lifetime achievement award for the communication of mathematics to the general public. In 2009 he was elected a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics for his “investigations of small-world networks and coupled oscillators and for outstanding science communication.” In 2012 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Strogatz is passionate about public outreach and loves sharing the beauty of math and science with a wide audience. He has spoken at TED and is a frequent guest on RadioLab. In the spring of 2010 he wrote a weekly blog about mathematics for the New York Times; the Harvard Business Review described these columns as "must reads for entrepreneurs and executives" and "a model for how mathematics needs to be popularized." His second New York Times series, Me, Myself and Math, appeared in the fall of 2012. Strogatz has also filmed a series of 24 lectures on Chaos for the Teaching Company’s Great Courses series. He is the author of Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos (1994), Sync (2003), and The Calculus of Friendship (2009). His most recent book, The Joy of x, was published in October 2012.

About "The Joy of x"

From Amazon.com:
A world-class mathematician and regular contributor to the New York Times hosts a delightful tour of the greatest ideas of math, revealing how it connects to literature, philosophy, law, medicine, art, business, even pop culture in ways we never imagined

Did O.J. do it? How should you flip your mattress to get the maximum wear out of it? How does Google search the Internet? How many people should you date before settling down? Believe it or not, math plays a crucial role in answering all of these questions and more.

Math underpins everything in the cosmos, including us, yet too few of us understand this universal language well enough to revel in its wisdom, its beauty — and its joy. This deeply enlightening, vastly entertaining volume translates math in a way that is at once intelligible and thrilling. Each trenchant chapter of The Joy of x offers an “aha!” moment, starting with why numbers are so helpful, and progressing through the wondrous truths implicit in π, the Pythagorean theorem, irrational numbers, fat tails, even the rigors and surprising charms of calculus. Showing why he has won awards as a professor at Cornell and garnered extensive praise for his articles about math for the New York Times, Strogatz presumes of his readers only curiosity and common sense. And he rewards them with clear, ingenious, and often funny explanations of the most vital and exciting principles of his discipline.

Whether you aced integral calculus or aren’t sure what an integer is, you’ll find profound wisdom and persistent delight in The Joy of x.

About "The Calculus of Friendship"

From the publisher's website:
The Calculus of Friendship is the story of an extraordinary connection between a teacher and a student, as chronicled through more than thirty years of letters between them. What makes their relationship unique is that it is based almost entirely on a shared love of calculus. For them, calculus is more than a branch of mathematics; it is a game they love playing together, a constant when all else is in flux. The teacher goes from the prime of his career to retirement, competes in whitewater kayaking at the international level, and loses a son. The student matures from high school math whiz to Ivy League professor, suffers the sudden death of a parent, and blunders into a marriage destined to fail. Yet through it all they take refuge in the haven of calculus--until a day comes when calculus is no longer enough.

Like calculus itself, The Calculus of Friendship is an exploration of change. It's about the transformation that takes place in a student's heart, as he and his teacher reverse roles, as they age, as they are buffeted by life itself. Written by a renowned teacher and communicator of mathematics, The Calculus of Friendship is warm, intimate, and deeply moving. The most inspiring ideas of calculus, differential equations, and chaos theory are explained through metaphors, images, and anecdotes in a way that all readers will find beautiful, and even poignant. Math enthusiasts, from high school students to professionals, will delight in the offbeat problems and lucid explanations in the letters.

For anyone whose life has been changed by a mentor, The Calculus of Friendship will be an unforgettable journey.

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  1. One of the things I love about Dr. Strogatz is that, more than some science/math communicators, he’s willing to wear his emotion on his sleeve. Many math folks talk about the deep beauty of math, but Strogatz’s voice often conveys just how richly that beauty has touched/affected him.


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