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Mathematics at the AAAS Annual Meeting, February 2002

The Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) took place in Boston, Massachusetts from February 14 through February 19. Below are some of the mathematics-related aspects of the meeting.

The 2002 AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology

Ian Stewart received the 2002 AAAS Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology. The award encourages and acknowledges talented scientists and engineers who popularize their work; recognizes and supports scientists and engineers who promote their research in a responsible manner; and emphasizes that the scientific community regards communicating to the public as a valuable and prestigious activity. Dr. Stewart has become known for his popular science writing on mathematical themes and for furthering the public understanding of science. He has contributed to a wide range of newspapers and magazines in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States, including New Scientist, Scientific American, and Discover. He is currently Professor of Mathematics at Warwick University and Director of the Mathematics Awareness Centre. His most recent book is Flatterland: Like Flatland Only More So (Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, Mass., 2001), which was positively reviewed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Nature, Scientific American, and Publishers Weekly.

In his acceptance speech Stewart gave thanks to mathematicians around the world, whose work he characterized as being the "glue" that holds all the sciences together.

AAAS Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement

Etta Zuber Falconer was honored for her passionate dedication and long-standing commitment, as a mentor, role model, administrator, and educator, to increase the number of African-Ameircan women entering mathematics-related careers." Dr. Falconer is a member and Fellow of the AAAS, the first secretary of the National Association of Mathematicians, and, among other honors, the recipient of the Louise Hay Award for Contributions to Mathematics Education from the Association for Women in Mathematics.

Topical Lecture at the meeting:

Carl Pomerance, Bell Laboratories, Prime Numbers and Cryptography
Saturday February 16, 8:00 - 8:45 a.m.
Pomerance began by pointing out that both prime numbers and cryptography are ancient subjects which are now intertwined. He described modern encryption algorithms, such as RSA and El Gamal, and pointed out that their success depends on the difficulty of factoring, root finding, and the discrete logarithm problem. In fact, Pomerance conjectured that encryption was "the only application at the meeting based on scientists not being able to solve a problem." Current progress in attacks on those problems was also given.

Symposia with mathematical themes:

Reconciling Expressivity and Tractability: Finite-State Methods in Natural Language Analysis, part of Brain, Mind, and Behavior
Organizers: Lawrence S. Moss, Indiana University and Dick Oehrle, YY Technologies for the Mathematics of Language
Monday, February 18, 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Mathematical Models for Movement and Aggregation of Cells and Organisms, part of Communicating Across Boundaries
Organizer: Hans Othmer, University of Minnesota
Sunday, February 17, 3:00 - 6:00 p.m.

Waves: Patterns and Turbulence, part of Communicating Across Boundaries
Organizers: Walter Craig, McMaster University and Nick Ercolani, University of Arizona
Tuesday, February 19, 8:00 - 10:00 a.m.

Show Me the Data! Wanted: More Accuracy in Media Reporting, part of Science and Society
Organizer: Leon H. Seitelman, University of Connecticut
Friday, February 15, 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon
Among the highlights of this symposium were talks by John Allan Paulos, A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, and Donald Rubin, The Use of Surrogate Outcomes in Experiments of Anthrax Vaccine. The audience was amused by Paulos' anecdotes relating to the misuse of data and mathematics in popular news stories. Rubin used examples illustrating Simpson's Paradox to show that in a vaccine trial, data could be misinterpreted so that conclusions drawn about the efficacy of a vaccine would be opposite to the vaccine's true performance.

Living with Data: Quantitative Literacy, part of Teaching, Learning, and Careers
Organizer: Lynn A. Steen, St. Olaf College
Friday, February 15, 8:45 - 10:15 a.m.

Articulation in Mathematics: Smoothing the Bumps from School to College , part of Teaching, Learning, and Careers
Organizer: Bernard L. Madison, Mathematical Association of America and University of Arkansas
Friday, February 15, 10:30 a.m. - 12:00 noon

Mathematics and Science of Origami: Visualize the Possibilities , part of Teaching, Learning, and Careers
Organizer: Patricia Wang-Iverson, Research for Better Schools
Friday, February 15, 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.
This symposium began with Erik Demaine of MIT giving a wonderful presentation on computational origami. Demaine presented an overview of the types of results in the field as well as giving some of its specific problems. During the conference The Boston Globe ran a front page story on Demaine and his father. The study of origami has led to the ability to fold objects as intricate as lobsters, as demonstrated by Robert Lang in his talk later in the symposium. Yet origami is more than paper folding. Applications range from the folding of proteins to the unfolding of giant lenses in space.

Advanced Science and Math in American High Schools , part of Teaching, Learning, and Careers
Organizer: Jerry P. Gollub, Haverford College
Sunday, February 17, 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon

Robot Arm Manipulation, part of Science Innovation: Physical Science and Engineering
Organizer: Robert Connelly, Cornell University
Saturday, February 16, 3:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Connelly, Sue Whitesides, Erik Demaine, and Ileanu Streinu spoke on the complexity of problems in the field and applications. The speakers illustrated many of the problems with helpful graphics and visual aids--including a robot dog.

You can also read about math at the AAAS meetings in 2004 and 2003.