After 44 years of teaching, professor James Cannon still loves mathematics and his students just as much as the day he began.
Cannon taught classes as a graduate student at the University of Utah and continued teaching for 17 years at the University of Wisconsin before coming to BYU in 1986. During his teaching career, Cannon has taught most types of undergraduate and many graduate mathematics courses.
Cannon developed an interest in math at a young age when his college-aged brother took a topology class and shared his love of mathematics with his younger brother.
“He came home and told me about space filling curves and different infinities, and I thought they were wonderful,” he said. “In high school, my parents gave me E. T. Bell’s Men of Mathematics that had all of these romantic figures of the past doing hard things that had amazing consequences. Their mathematics had magic in it.”
Although mathematics came naturally to him, he said he has met many people who are smarter and quicker than he is, and he has run into problems that are harder than he can solve.
“And I’ve enjoyed both the smart people and the hard problems,” he said.
Cannon said he likes the challenge of explaining difficult concepts to students.
“I try to make things crystal clear,” he said. “I want to tell people about those things that I find magical, and I like the response when I succeed at that. I like the interplay; I like the questions — I like the office hours.”
Cannon credits “good students, good colleagues and a wonderfully supportive wife” for making his career in mathematics possible and enjoyable.
After his retirement in September, Cannon plans to continue his mathematics research, but also plans to devote more time to his many hobbies.
“I have things I want to write,” he said. “Then there’s church work, family history, more time to visit children and grandchildren, hiking, piano and reading. And then who knows what else will come up.”
—Stacie Carnley, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences