Wild About Math! Making Math fun and accessible


Michelle Montgomery & Katie Fowler – Inspired by Math #30

Math contests can be a lot of fun. SIAM, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, puts on a contest every year for teams of high school juniors and seniors to propose a solution to a pressing real world problem. The contest promotes lots of hard work, collaboration, and smart thinking. And, the winners get a bunch of scholarship money along with a hefty dose of glory. My two podcast guests have key roles in running the contest. It's a great thing that Michelle Montgomery and Katie Fowler are doing to prepare future generations to take on the world's challenges.


About Michelle Montgomery

BIOpicMichelle Montgomery wrote the initial proposal and is project director for Moody’s Mega Math (M 3) Challenge. This is an extension of her work as director of marketing for the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). Her responsibilities focus on fulfilling the mission of SIAM, which includes inspiring young people to study and pursue careers in applied mathematics and computational science.

Since joining the staff in 1988, Michelle has been involved in promoting SIAM publications, conferences, and membership -- all of which are focused on high level applications of math. The M3 Challenge is SIAM’s biggest outreach to students in high school. Other outreach efforts include series of interesting vignettes that explain the math behind everyday life, interesting research being done, and generally highlight the value of computational sciences to our world. These efforts go under the names “Math Matters” and “Nuggets” on the SIAM Public Awareness pages.

Moving forward, Michelle hopes to participate in changing the way students, teachers, and the public look at math education through integration of more math modeling activities in STEM/STEAM curriculum, and more public awareness efforts to demonstrate the importance of work being done by computational professionals.

Michelle lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with her two teenage children, with whom she spends much of her free time. She is passionate about literacy and education, and serves on the board of trustees for her local public library.

About Katie Fowler

fowlerKatie Fowler joined the Department of Mathematics at Clarkson University in the fall of 2003 having graduated from North Carolina State University with a PhD in Computational Applied Mathematics. Her efforts as a mathematician are split between the scientific community and service to the campus and local communities, including educational outreach grants bringing over $3M to northern New York. She co-directs an integrated math-physics roller coaster engineering camp for 50+ local 7-12 grade students every summer.

Katie received the Clarkson University Outstanding New Teacher award in 2005, and in 2010 the Mathematical Association of America honored her with the Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Beginning College or University Mathematics Faculty Member. The most rewarding part of being a professor to her is mentoring students, including supervising undergraduate projects. She has co-authored eight peer-reviewed papers with undergraduate research students in the last ten years.

Her research focus is applied optimization with an emphasis on developing hybrid derivative-free techniques for simulation-based engineering problems. Although her work has spanned multiple disciplines including psychology, polymer processing, and biology, she is most passionate about environmental applications. She has developed algorithims to tackle remediation of contaminated groundwater and is currently working on sustainable water practices for the agricultural management.

In her spare time, Katie enjoys running, cooking, travelling (to eat new things), and trying to convince her two girls to broaden their culinary experiences.

About SIAM

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) is an international community of over 13,000 individual members. Almost 500 academic, manufacturing, research and development, service and consulting organizations, government, and military organizations worldwide are institutional members.

SIAM fosters the development of applied mathematical and computational methodologies needed in these various application areas. Applied mathematics in partnership with computational science is essential in solving many real-world problems. Through publications, research, and community, the mission of SIAM is to build cooperation between mathematics and the worlds of science and technology. More ...

About Moody’s Mega Math Challenge

The M3 Challenge spotlights applied mathematics as a powerful problem-solving tool, as a viable and exciting profession, and as a vital contributor to advances in an increasingly technical society. Scholarship prizes total $115,000. The Challenge is entirely Internet-based and there are no registration or participation fees. Each high school may enter up to two teams of three to five junior and/or senior students. More ...

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Ken Fan – Inspired by Math #29

This podcast is an experimental one in that I didn't script the questions the way I usually do. My guest, Ken Fan, and I both decided in advance that we'd go with the flow. And, in my judgment, this is the best podcast I've done -- it felt very natural. Ken is a great guy with a sincere desire to improve girls' experience of math education. And, he's created an organization to manifest his great vision. I absolutely love it when a PhD level mathematician decides that high school education is important enough to dedicate himself to it.

If you've never heard of Ken or Girls' Angle you're in for a treat.

About Ken Fan

Girls' AngleKen Fan is the president and founder of Girls' Angle, a nonprofit math club for girls based in Cambridge, Massachusetts (www.girlsangle.org). He received a doctoral degree in mathematics from MIT under the supervision of George Lusztig and was a Benjamin Peirce assistant professor of mathematics at Harvard before leaving academia to pursue a career as an oil painter. To pay the bills, he began freelancing in math educational publishing in various capacities. His experiences as a freelancer as well as an opportunity to volunteer for Science Club for Girls inspired him to create a comprehensive math educational program for girls. He may be reached at girlsangle "at" gmail.com.

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Lance Fortnow: Inspired by Math #28

P vs. NP is a problem at the forefront of computer science. Until now there hasn't been a book written for a general audience that introduces the problem and its importance. Lance Fortnow has authored such a book. Lance I discuss the problem, the book, why he wrote it, and what it takes to write such a book in a way that doesn't scare most of us away. And, we take a few detours into talks about computer science and programming early microcomputers.


About Lance Fortnow

From the author's web-site:

Lance Fortnow is professor and chair of the School of Computer Science of the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research focuses on computational complexity and its applications to economic theory. He also holds an adjoint professorship at the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago.

Fortnow received his Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics at MIT in 1989 under the supervision of Michael Sipser. Before he joined Georgia Tech in 2012, Fortnow was a professor at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, a senior research scientist at the NEC Research Institute and a one-year visitor at CWI and the University of Amsterdam.

Fortnow's research spans computational complexity and its applications, most recently to micro-economic theory. His work on interactive proof systems and time space lower bounds for satsifability have led to his election as a 2007 ACM Fellow. In addition he was an NSF Presidential Faculty Fellow from 1992-1998 and a Fulbright Scholar to the Netherlands in 1996-97.

Among his many activities, Fortnow served as the founding editor-in-chief of the ACM Transaction on Computation Theory, served as chair of ACM SIGACT and currently sits on the Computing Research Association board of directors and the council of the Computing Community Consortium. He served as chair of the IEEE Conference on Computational Complexity from 2000-2006. Fortnow originated and co-authors the Computational Complexity weblog since 2002, the first major theoretical computer science blog. He has thousands of followers on Twitter.

Fortnow's survey The Status of the P versus NP Problem is CACM's most downloaded article. Fortnow has written a popular science book The Golden Ticket: P, NP and the Search for the Impossible loosely based on that article.

About "The Golden Ticket"

From the Princeton University Press web-site:

The P-NP problem is the most important open problem in computer science, if not all of mathematics. Simply stated, it asks whether every problem whose solution can be quickly checked by computer can also be quickly solved by computer. The Golden Ticket provides a nontechnical introduction to P-NP, its rich history, and its algorithmic implications for everything we do with computers and beyond. In this informative and entertaining book, Lance Fortnow traces how the problem arose during the Cold War on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and gives examples of the problem from a variety of disciplines, including economics, physics, and biology. He explores problems that capture the full difficulty of the P-NP dilemma, from discovering the shortest route through all the rides at Disney World to finding large groups of friends on Facebook. But difficulty also has its advantages. Hard problems allow us to safely conduct electronic commerce and maintain privacy in our online lives.

The Golden Ticket explores what we truly can and cannot achieve computationally, describing the benefits and unexpected challenges of this compelling problem.

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Addendum to the Gili Rusak & Mary O’Keeffe podcast

Mary O'Keeffe has an article in the Albany Area Math Circle blog expanding on some of the discussion in our recent podcast. And, her daughter Catherine created a transcript of the recording. The transcript is annotated with comments that may be of interest to listeners.

Mary's article, Doing justice to describing the work of other math circles that have inspired us elaborates on the contributions and inspiration that Ken Fan and many others have made to help her math circle to thrive.

I'll be interviewing Ken Fan for the "Inspired by Math!" series. And, I plan to seek out the other people who have inspired the folks in the Albany Area and shine the spotlight on those who are willing.

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