Emory’s Math Circle Making Bubbles This Summer

Graduate students from Emory’s Math Circle, a free weekly math enrichment program for middle school and high school students in the Atlanta area, are sponsoring a show at the Atlanta Children’s Museum (June 14, 21, 28) at noon called “Boxes and Bubbles.”

Check out this news clip from CBS Better Mornings Atlanta that features Amanda Clemm and Sarah Trebat-Leder.

See eScienceCommons article

QuanTM to Build Stronger Quantitative Scholars

A new Institute for Quantitative Theory and Methods (QuanTM) has begun laying the groundwork to strengthen Emory as a community of quantitative scholars, unfolding plans to offer new statistics courses, undergraduate fellowships, workshops, a statistics help desk, a speakers series, and by next summer, a major conference.

It’s all part of a larger vision to build stronger quantitative scholars and enhance interdisciplinary studies at the University, boosting its reputation on the national stage as a center for excellence in computational modeling and statistics, says Clifford Carrubba, director of QuanTM (pronounced “quantum”).

Emory undergraduates can now register for a new “Introduction to Statistical Inference” course to be offered college-wide this fall by newly hired faculty member Shannon McClintock, a recent Emory PhD graduate in biostatistics.

Students are also being considered for undergraduate research fellowships in quantitative methods, to be paired with Emory professors doing research in an area of shared interest. Calls have gone out for visiting scholars and future plans may even include offering a new major in the field.

The developments are the result of a major initiative endorsed by Emory College Dean Robin Forman, who is Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Mathematics. Forman traces the origins of the idea to a common refrain he heard time and again when he arrived on campus some 18 months ago: Help our students develop quantitative skills.

The dean agreed, and began considering ways to transform the educational experience for undergraduates, graduate students and faculty alike, promoting the growth of quantitative studies across both the natural and social sciences.

“Over the last decade, many more disciplines have become much more quantitative, far more data intensive than they ever have been,” says Forman, who sees the institute as an investment in the future.

“It’s become an essential competency,” he adds. “I think that we need to be a home for thoughtful leaders — among our students, alumni and faculty — who are skilled at accessing and assessing data, and interpreting what they’re seeing.”

By strengthening undergraduate skills, Emory students will be better prepared for graduate studies, as well as today’s competitive job market, where competency in statistical analysis pays off, notes Carrubba, a political science professor who also directs Emory’s Center for the Study of Law, Politics and Economics.

“The business world, journalism, economics — all sorts of disciplines are increasingly flush with many forms of data,” Carrubba says. “Students emerging with these skills will be in high demand.”

Adds Forman, “Although this is not driving the project, it is reassuring to read reports that one of the largest growth areas in employment opportunities is in quantitative data analysis.”

Although quantitative research hasn’t traditionally been considered a major facet of a liberal arts education, both educators believe it’s time to rethink that. In fact, Forman says there is a growing interest in the role of computational, quantitative techniques within the humanities, “to explore ideas and understand the dynamics that are shaping the culture.”

For example, Carrubba cites advances in the digital humanities movement and computational linguistics, which allow scholars to identify literary characteristics — such as sentiment or mood — and write computer programs to study that aspect in hundreds of thousands of books.

“I can imagine having undergraduate humanities majors, social and natural scientists in the same class using the same skill set for very different purposes — an English major may be using the same skills that a biologist uses,” Carrubba observes.

“Moving forward, I think it’s integral to what a liberal arts education needs to take seriously,” he adds.

See full news release

QuanTM Homepage



“Euraka!” moment in the north Georgia mtns

Smithsonian.com (“A Walk Through the Woods Leads to Insight on Numbers, Jan. 24, 2011) shares the story of an important recent discovery involving partition numbers by  Ken Ono (Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Mathematics). He and post-doc Zach Kent were walking through the north Georgia woods when…

“We were standing on some huge rocks, where we could see out over this valley and hear the falls, when we realized partition numbers are fractal,” Ono says. “We both just started laughing.”

Fractals are a kind of geometric shape that looks incredibly complex but is actually composed of repeating patterns. Fractals are common in nature—snowflakes, broccoli, blood vessels—and as a mathematical concept they’ve been hauled into use for everything from seismology to music.

Ono and his team realized that these repeating patterns can also be found in partition numbers. “The sequences are all eventually periodic, and they repeat themselves over and over at precise intervals,” Ono says. That realization led them to an equation (all math leads to equations, it sometimes seems) that lets them calculate the number of partitions for any number.

Read the full article

Related Media

eScienceCommons blog

In the news… Dean Robin Forman

from Emory Quadrangle Magazine, Fall 2010

New Dean in Town: Robin Forman Arrives at Emory

[pdf version]

If Emory College’s new dean were to fill out a Facebook profile, he’d certainly include something about math—especially topology and combinatorial methods, his specialty— and about serving as Rice University’s dean of undergraduates. He might also save space for baseball, chess and stand-up comedy.

Robin Forman accepted the position of dean of the College of Arts and Sciences this summer after a nationwide search. A professor and chair of math at Rice, he will also hold the Asa Griggs Candler Professorship in Mathematics.

Dabbling in stand-up no doubt served Forman well in overseeing both the academic and the social sides of Rice undergraduate life. And a sense of humor couldn’t hurt in his new role. At Emory his responsibilities include strategic, academic and financial planning for nearly fifty departments and programs, as well as promotion and tenure decisions.

Chess, like comedy, is a longtime hobby. “I don’t get the chance to play in clubs or tournaments any longer,” Forman says, “but I still enjoy studying the game, keeping up with the progress of the top grandmasters, and I’ll occasionally head to a chess website for a quick game over the Internet.” When he’s at home, the dean also enjoys reading, with tastes that run toward “literary fiction, with the occasional spy novel thrown in. But I’ve recently found myself drawn more to nonfiction.”

And baseball? That’s a family affair. Dean Forman is joined in Atlanta by his wife and son, Saul, age 13. “Saul is passionate about baseball,” he says, “both as a fan and a player, and Ann and I have enthusiastically joined him on his journey. We enjoy watching baseball at all levels—youth, college, minor and major leagues—and all our recent family vacations have been baseball-themed. Of course my most joyful and most stressful baseball moments involve watching Saul play. When we’re not cheering on his teams, we can often be found exploring the wonderful restaurant options in Atlanta. We’ve already learned that this is a great city for anyone who appreciates food.”

No one who knows Forman will be surprised that he places a strong emphasis on the student experience at Emory. He served as master of a residential college at Rice, and he remembers his own undergraduate experience as “a thrilling intellectual journey, and great fun. I made some wonderful life-long friends, among both students and faculty. I also took full advantage of the opportunities to participate in extra-curricular activities: I played intramural sports, played in rock and roll bands, and, of course, joined the chess club.”

At Emory, says Forman, “The aim of our undergraduate program is to take in high school students and graduate young adults. This requires that they develop in many ways beyond the intellectual growth that forms the core of the College experience. We have to make use of the entire campus. I look forward to working with the Campus Life team to create a student experience, in the classroom and out, that helps our remarkable students achieve their potential.”

An important part of this, he says, is community service. “There’s a great passion for community service among the students here, and a wonderful collection of opportunities available to them—especially through the Office of University-Community Partnerships and Volunteer Emory. Our goal should be to continually support opportunities that provide both benefit for the community and educational value for our students.”

Faculty play a crucial role in Forman’s view of a thriving Emory College. As a veteran teacher and scholar, he calls the dual mission of teaching and research “one of the defining features of the College,” adding, “I have had numerous opportunities to chat with Emory faculty, and many of them spoke of their passionate commitment to this ideal. Many in fact came to Emory precisely because they believe in that mission. And it’s been a wonderful experience to walk down the halls of the departments and see the spectacular work that’s taking place in every building on campus.

“The university is at its best when these aspects overlap— when students have the opportunity to learn by participating in our research mission. The College does this very well,” he says. Forman notes too that he has been impressed by all the “ambitious and creative approaches to interdisciplinary work” at Emory.

Asked to pick the most pressing issue facing higher education today, he answers, “The financial crisis. We had all gotten used to continuous expansion, and this was especially true at Emory, which experienced three decades of quite dramatic growth. This was mission-driven growth, with exciting new opportunities for scholarship and student programs. But the last two years required a pause, and even a slight contraction. The positive side is that it has given us a chance to regroup, and to build in new efficiencies.”

Other effects of the recession ought to be resisted, Forman says. “In times of financial stress, there can be a tendency to look at higher education in purely vocational terms. It becomes even more important to educate students, parents, employers, political leaders, and others about the value of a liberal arts education, the role it plays in preparing our students to be successful adults. I’m not speaking just of professional success, but of success as happy, healthy, fulfilled adults.”

[pdf version]

Related Links

Emory Magazine profile (Autumn 2010)

Emory Report profile (August 27, 2010)

Emory University news release (April 12, 2010)