M3 Math Majors Matter ----------------------------------


2006 Google Workshop for Women Engineers - Jennifer Ward
Undergraduate Research Symposium - Zach Richards & Casey Moffitt
MathFest - August 2006 - Megan Sawyer

MathFest 2006: A Student's Perspective

By Megan Sawyer

Knoxville, TN:

Pocket protectors. Coke-Bottle glasses. Tattoos of the limit definition of a derivative. And that was just a smattering of the student participants. Don't even get me started on the professors!

MathFest 2006 was a conglomeration of individuals across the country gathered for one purpose and one purpose only: MATH (hence the name of the conference). Morning seminars started out with healthy doses of topology and algebraic theory, followed by break-out sessions covering topics such as homer-friendly ballparks (statistically speaking, of course, is it any surprise that Coors' Field holds the record for being most friendly?) and the use of differential equations to create video graphics for a car show booth. Professionals and undergraduates vied for their respective ten minutes of fame with presentations of research projects or classroom lesson plans, encouraging the rest of us to get involved for next year.

In short, there was so much math to read, to watch, to do, to absorb. I never knew that math could be so physically draining and energizing at the same time. How much math, you may ask? Well, my days went something like this:

Get up at 6am, have breakfast by 7:30 and stake out a seat for the morning Invited Lecture at 8:30. Choosing a seat was obviously an imperative after the first morning's talk filling every seat in the hall. The three addressees related advances in mathematics to the real world; my favorite speaker discussed the use of topology to discern and classify the mechanisms by which DNA replicates itself.

A series of breakout talks were offered between 10 and 11:30, followed by a lunch break until 1. Throughout the day, student presenters each had roughly ten minutes to discuss their papers in a series of ten rooms (you do the math on how many undergrads were floating around in suits and ties). I was astounded by the quality and magnitude of research that some of these students had conducted as well as their sense of professionalism. More ten minute talks by mathematicians and teachers across the country took place after lunch. Some, like the Diff Eq talk on car shows, were geared specifically toward undergrad participants, but I wasn't surprised to see quite a few professors there as well. Gathering ideas, perhaps?

Most events were concluded by 5:30 or so, after which Mike Kawai and I would find somewhere to eat and compare notes from each of the sessions and classes we attended. After working through various problems (some of which the Math 3250 students are receiving this semester), I would roll into bed at 11 to catch a few hours of sleep for the next day.

The U.S. National Collegiate Mathematics Competition, the reason for my presence in Knoxville, was, in a nutshell, difficult. The caliber of students that I was competing against was very high some of the undergrads present had quite a bit of math under their belts. The fifty minutes I spent working problems in that room was just a small part of the entire experience, though.

Looking back, MathFest served as a forum to expose all these different people, each inhabiting their own little worlds, to the results and discoveries of their peers. As an undergrad, there were some things that I just didn't know enough math to understand as well as topics that didn't interest me; yet, weeks later, I still wonder about some of the topics that the speakers addressed and what sort of research I could be involved with. And I think that's the goal of MathFest: Fostering the seed of discovery in both professional and aspiring mathematicians.

Undergraduate Research Symposium

By Zach Richards & Casey Moffitt, math undergraduates

On April 14th, along with our group partner Jennifer Ward, we had the privilege to participate in the Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS). The URS is a great way for undergraduates to demonstrate their research to other students, faculty, and staff. It is also a great way for other students to get exposure to different types of research. There were a variety of projects from a wide range of fields, such as Biology, Anthropology, and Engineering. The complexity of some of the projects was overwhelming, but it was impressive to see what research other students were conducting. Our project was an investigation in graph theory concerning distance graphs on the integers.

Some of the other participants from the math department were Eric Bray (Growth and Maintenance of Dictyostelium Discoideum as a Model for a Measure of Collective Cell Behavior), Sabrina Kahn (Study of Silicon Polyhedral Cages), and Darren Homrighausen (Empirical Analysis of Organ Donation Rates). Eric Bray said, “The symposium was a learning experience, and because the opportunity to present my research to people who were not familiar with the topic.” From conversations with other participants they all seemed to agree that trying to simplify the project for everyone to understand was their largest challenge.

 We began our preparation by deciding which ideas we could easily display to the general public without an understanding of upper level math, in particular graph theory. The terminology in graph theory is very difficult to understand, because of that it was difficult to communicate our research. Once we had decided what should be displayed our goal was to develop a poster that was visually stimulating and logically organized. Along side of our poster, we created a more in-depth power point slide show. This slide show had animated graphs so the viewer could get a better understanding of our definitions and the motivations for the project. To prepare for the presentation at the symposium our advisor, Dr. Mike Ferrara, gave us pointers and key notes to present.

 At the symposium we were approached by a select few individuals inquiring about the nature of our poster. Being that our project was in pure mathematics it was challenging to present our work to those who did inquire. However, explaining our project to others was a good learning experience, since it always furthers our own understanding when communicating what we understand to others.It seemed most viewers were more interested in the application of our results. Even though it is somewhat applicable to the real world, we have been approaching the problem largely from a theoretical point of view. Mike did foresee this happening, and so we looked into possible applications of our research and added them to the poster. We found our work could be applied in computational biology, specifically the Partial Digest Problem. This was definitely a good idea because most spectators were more impressed when they heard about the possible applications.

  The undergraduate research symposium was beneficial to our understanding of research, and how to express our research in a generalized format. At the conclusion of the symposium presentations, there was an interesting talk given by former U.S. Senator Gary Hart. Senator Hart addressed the importance of education for America’s future, and specifically the security of our future. This was a very inspirational speech, and as a result we felt proud to have taken part in the symposium. To those undergraduates considering research we would recommend talking to faculty members in the field of interest, and inquire about working on a project. After working on a project we recommend attending and/or participating in the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium.

2006 Google Workshop for Women Engineers

By Jennifer Ward, math undergrad

Google desires for women to make up half its workforce.In an effort to find excellent female computer scientists, they have created the Google Workshop for Women Engineers.Its purpose is to gather and encourage women in this field.In January, I was privileged enough to attend this wonderful event at the Google Headquarters in Mountain View California. What an incredible experience!

The workshop was a great time to mingle with other women from around the country, while getting a feel for the Google atmosphere. As far as I could tell, there were women representing most of the states in the U.S. Meeting with women Googlers who have successful careers was so refreshing. Too often, women in engineering related fields lack the confidence to pursue careers in their field. This problem, in particular, was addressed by one of the Google panelists during the wrap-up discussion time at the conference.

During the workshop, there were several talks and breakout sessions that were geared toward specific applications at Google. I attended a breakout session on Google Earth and one on Leading in Usability.  Both sessions were intriguing.

Here’s a snapshot of what I learned.

Google Earth

Google Earth is an application that models the earth and allows the user to explore a variety of interests, such as historic sites, wildlife around the globe, even your own home or neighborhood. Google has teamed up with National Geographic to allow users to explore the globe through linked National Geographic articles. All over the world there are little yellow rectangles that indicate there is a National Geographic story related to that region. Additionally, there is a live webcam that shows wildlife at a watering hole in Africa.

The woman presenting Google Earth demonstrated an application of it that she used to bring awareness to her community about proposed logging. She created a fly-over simulation that indicated the logging zones which included nearby schools and neighborhoods. This presentation to her community made a huge impact.

While Google Earth is a great educational tool, it can also be used plan a trip. It has the functionality to simulate a trip as if a person were driving the route.

There’s more I could tell you, but it’s more fun to check it out yourself. So, download the free version of Google Earth today. You’re sure to be entertained for hours. Go to http://earth.google.com.

Leading in Usability:

This talk made me want to work for Google. The usability talk discussed how end-users actually respond to Google products. This is a fascinating area because it incorporates both psychology and computer science. The Google usability team spends a lot of time performing surveys and conducting usability studies.

During this break out session, we got to experience what a usability study looks like. The speakers invited in a guest for a demonstration. The studies involve asking a person to perform tasks and watching how they respond. One technique Google uses is eye-tracking. They have a computer that has a built-in device that tracks a person’s eye movement when viewing the screen. This is a very useful test because it indicates how people view things, what catches their attention. For instance, people have a tendency to look over longer blocks of text, while bold titles are usually viewed longer and are often referred to later. This technique is useful in determining how to design a user-friendly application.

Google’s Work Environment

Google offers an unbelievable work environment. The headquarters is broken into several buildings. Each building has a relaxed atmosphere that is conducive to work and fostering creativity. There are huge bean bag chairs all over the place with board games and puzzles to play with during breaks. According to one of our tour guides, Sergey Brin, one of Google’s co-founders, believes a person should never be more than 100 feet from food. In an effort to realize his conviction, each building has multiple snack stations that offer free snacks from trail mix to candy and any beverage you could think of. In addition, Google provides their employees with free meals from breakfast to dinner. Employees have a variety of food options, as there are five major cafes on the premises. The food is amazing!

Google offers other accommodations such as massages, full concierge services, swimming pool, beach volleyball court, and a wellness center. They also offer weekly tech talks where they bring in speakers to talk about interesting things going on in technology. Employees are welcome to use these amenities as they wish. As long as people get their work done, it is up to the individual to schedule their daily activities.

In addition to all these benefits, Google offers maternity and paternity leave; and new moms and dads are able to expense up to $500 in take-out meals during the first four weeks after having a baby. Because Google wants to have women working for them, they offer many incentives to make it a great place for them to work.

For more information about job opportunities with Google, go to www.google.com/jobs.

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