Skip to Main Content

Arnold Ross Lecture by Curtis McMullen and Who Wants To Be A Mathematician at the Museum of Science, Boston

The 2002 Arnold Ross Lecture was sponsored by the American Mathematical Society and the Museum of Science, Boston, on April 11. This was the thirteenth in a series of lectures for talented high school mathematics students.
Devaney introduces McMullen McMullen with triangles

Curtis McMullen, Harvard mathematics professor and 1998 Fields Medalist, spoke on "From Triangles to Infinity." McMullen motivated the talk by asking the audience what path a lion should take to capture a human, if both are in an enclosed ring. A little later in the talk, he asked students in the audience to assemble polyhedra using interlocking triangles, given the constraint that a fixed number of triangles have to meet at each vertex. As the title of the talk suggests, there were many different areas of mathematics touched on by McMullen, including: Fermat's Last Theorem, Zeno's Paradoxes, hyperbolic and spherical geometry, the harmonic series, and tiling. Near the end of his talk, McMullen showed a path that a human could take to elude the lion and used results about infinite series to demonstrate the path's effectiveness. The teachers and students who filled the Boston Museum of Science auditorium thoroughly enjoyed the subject of the talk and the manner in which it was delivered. Many students sought out McMullen after his talk to ask questions, and some even asked for his autograph.

McMullen with transparency examples Students talk with McMullen after his talk

After a break for refreshments, the AMS Public Awareness Office ran the Who Wants To Be A Mathematician game for 10 Boston-area high school students who pre-qualified to play by taking a short test that had been sent to mathematics teachers a couple of weeks earlier. In this version of the game, the contestants were chosen by lottery before each round: Michelle Sonia (Notre Dame Academy), Andrew Brandt (Swampscott High School), Kevin Hausherr (North Middlesex Township), and Kristen Grauer-Gray (Framingham High School) sat in the "hot seat" opposite the entertaining host Mike Breen and were cheered by students and teachers from more than 18 schools. No one won the $2,000 grand prize, but Kristen Grauer-Gray succeeded in making it up to the last and hardest of 15 questions covering algebra, geometry, trigonometry, logic and history of mathematics.

Cheering classmates In the hotseat looking at a tough question
Some of the contestants await their turn in the hotseat Kristen Grauer-Gray advances to the final question

The other students who pre-qualified to play the game were Mike Bottom (Belmont High School), Mark Ferreira (Old Rochester Regional), Hankun Huang (Quincy High School), Sean Maran (Roxbury Latin), Israel Molina (Chelsea High School), and Julie Proulx (Natick High School). All the contestants received a bag of mathematical gifts. Prizes awarded included AMS t-shirts and The College Mathematics Journal published by the Mathematical Association of America. Other prize donors were The Museum of Science, Boston, Waterloo Maple software company, the Mathematical Association of America, John Wiley & Sons, publisher, Texas Instruments, and the AMS. A student in the audience won a Maple Student Edition donated by Waterloo Maple in the raffle.

The AMS thanks speaker Curtis McMullen; Robert Devaney, Chair of the Arnold Ross Lecture Committee; Lynn Baum, High School Programs Manager, and staff at the Museum of Science; and Robin Aguiar, AMS Conference Coordinator; and all the students and teachers who traveled from near and far for making this such a special and successful celebration of challenging mathematics.

The Committee for Arnold Ross Lectures is: Arthur T. Benjamin, Harvey Mudd College, Robert Devaney, Chair, Boston University, Deborah Tepper Haimo (Past Chair), University of California, San DiegoVictoria A. Powers, Emory University, and Judy L. Walker, University of Nebraska.

The 2003 Arnold Ross Lecture will take place at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago on October 28.