On March 9 members of the MxCC Math Club took a trip with MxCC Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dr. Mary Rayappan to Providence, Rhode Island to attend the Brown University Symposium for Undergraduates in the Mathematical Sciences. According to the event’s page, the goal of the symposium, which has been held annually since 2002, is “to foster greater undergraduate interest and scholarship in mathematics by demonstrating the ubiquity of mathematics throughout the sciences.”
Students who attended the symposium had the opportunity hear lectures given by prominent researchers and professors from institutions around the country. Speakers included Jeffrey Miller of Brown University, IBM researcher Dr. Craig Gentry, Professor Muriel Médard of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Professor Aram Harrow also of MIT.
MxCC students Ritu Mehra and Liron Rogof said that the members of the math club were excited for the lectures and topics presented at SUMS because they “helped us to understand a variety of math topics broader than what we have been taught in school [so far].” The event also opened students to the possibility of meeting other math enthusiasts who by sharing their knowledge showed, “how math can be useful in almost everything in life,” says Mehra.
In addition to the keynote speakers, throughout the day attendees of the conference were able to hear mini talk sessions discussing how the study of mathematics pertains to various fields such as computer science, physics, statistics, and actuarial science. Students from Brown and other colleges also prepared poster presentations, which focused on their personal areas of interest.
President of the MxCC Math Club, Andrew Kenyon created a poster of his own, which visualized a problem in number theory. His presentation titled, “Baby Steps With Fermat’s Last Theorem,” focused on a situation where it is possible to factor the sum of squares over the real numbers. Kenyon states, “My interest stemmed (pun intended) from an extra credit problem Professor Sagong gave our Mat173 class a few semesters ago…the problem, as I came to learn, was that in as long as he’d been presenting this particular extra-credit, only one other student had managed to successfully answer the question.”
With that challenge in front of him, Kenyon says he worked almost endlessly “to determine a general rule for factoring binomials in the form of (xk + h), in other words, what properties or composition must exist for “k” and for “h.” He goes on to explain, “After I had ‘discovered’ the general rule for the composition of ‘k’ and ‘h’ I learned that a French Mathematician named Sophie Germain had uncovered the same thing back during the Napoleonic Wars while she was working on Fermat’s Last Theorem (famous number theory problem, solved about a decade ago).”
Professor Rayappan was extremely delighted at the involvement and thirst for knowledge she experienced from the Math Club members who she brought to this conference. She noted that “This is the first time we are doing a Math conference trip from our college and we intend to continue this every year. Our students are in no way secondary to those from any other educational institution provided they put their hearts and minds to learning!”
Apart from feeding their brains intellectually, the team also had fun while they traveled together in the van and at a local restaurant satisfying their taste buds with savory Indian dishes. They returned after taking part in the banquet provided by Brown University for the participants of the conference!
Kim Budnick has completed her requirements for an associate’s degree in fine arts from MxCC and will graduate in May 2013. She is in the process of transferring to a four-year college to earn her bachelor’s degree in graphic design.