Pi Day 2013: An “Irrational” Day

The annual Pi Day event, sponsored by the Mathematics Department, is right around the corner!  Held every year on March 14th from 12:00 pm – 1:59 pm, activities and games will take place on Brigham Square (in case of inclement weather, the event will be moved to the Terrace Court in the Wilkinson Center).  The Math Department’s Student Advisory Council, along with the Mathematics Education Association, and Qualtrics, have partnered together to produce this year’s fun occasion celebrating the digits of Pi.


Popular activities such as Pie the Professor, Buffon’s Needle, and Pi Recitation will take place, as well as many new events like Pi Hoops, the Human Orbitron, Pi Count, Pi Face Painting, and Pi Story have been added to this year’s festivities.  Many prizes and lots of food will be served at the 14 different events and activities.  As usual, the traditional Pi Countdown will commence at 1:58 pm, thus completing the beginning Pi sequence of 3.14159 when the clock hits 1:59 pm.


Every year, a new and exciting Pi Day t-shirt is created, and this year’s design reflects the entertaining and whimsical fun that takes place on this “irrational” day.  This year’s Pi-Day t-shirts will be sold in the foyer of the Talmage Building, during the week of Pi Day, and in the Math Department Office (275 TMCB) for $5.  For more information, please contact Morgan at events@math.byu.edu.

Now, if you’re looking for a way to prepare for the festivities ahead of time, check out this cool and fun way to earn some extra cash…
A new system for encoding digits into words
Do you like math, creativity, and story telling?  Could you use an extra $20?
Learn the Math Department’s new memorization system and use it to write a story that creatively encodes the first 100 digits of pi.  Submit your story by email to Dr. Gary Lawlor at Lawlor@math.byu.edu.  Three winners will each receive the $20 prize.
The new system
The idea is based on the “Major System,” invented in its original form by the French mathematician Pierre Hérigone.  Consonant sounds represent digits from 0 to 9, and vowels are “free,” meaning that they do not represent any digits.  You can read about the Major System on Wikipedia.
Once you know the Major System
Dr. Lawlor of the BYU mathematics department has modified the Major system in a simple way that adds flexibility.  The result is a method with a great deal of freedom for creating words and putting them together into a story to encode a long string of digits.
What we do differently is to specify how many digits will be generated by each word.  A word must generate either zero or two digits.  If, according to the rules of the Major System, the word would only generate one digit, then we consider that word free.
The one exception is our rule that words that begin with W all generate either zero or one digit.
Finally, the common words “and”, “but”, and “for” are free, as are the consonant blends “th” and “ng,” which are not specifically addressed in the Major System.
As an example, the sentence
David washed his new bicycle with soap and water.
encodes the string of digits 18690091, as we explain below.
First, no digits are generated by the words his, new, with, or and, either by special rule (for the word and) or because the Major System gives them fewer digits than the digit quota.
The first 1 and 8 come from the D and V of David; the 6 comes from washed, 90 comes from bicycle, 09 from soap, and 1 from water.
Dr. Lawlor’s Pi Story
Here is Dr. Lawlor’s story that encodes 104 digits of Pi:  (Your story is not allowed to be about a whale!)
On a muddy road one day I helped an injured whale that two women had left wobbling there.  Yes, a couple of mean women forgot that they had chained it up.
A cheerful mathematician waved to me, and he and I managed to keep the whale happy.
Soon we had five workers taping it up, doing a good job of  impeding the wobbling.
You see, it makes whales dizzy if you leave their noses wobbling.
As they carefully prepared to relieve the wobbling, they named the skinny guy “fatty.”
I watched as they rescued the giant fish’s nose from weaving and wobbling, before it had a chance to fuss any more.
Finally, the whale miracle ended.  We took it to the seashore and we walked home before nightfall.

Integration Bee 2013

Think the Integration Bee sounds cool but not sure what it is?


The Integration Bee is similar to a spelling bee, but instead of spelling words, you solve integrals.  This is a great opportunity for math-lovers to earn some extra cash and have some fun along the way.


Prizes will be awarded as follows:


1st Place: $100 BYU Bookstore gift card

2nd Place: $75 BYU Bookstore gift card

3rd Place: $50 BYU Bookstore gift card

4th Place: $25 BYU Bookstore gift card


T-shirts will also be awarded for the top 20 students, and refreshments will be served.  The Bee takes place this Friday, March 8, in 297 TMCB at 3pm.  Sign-up by Wednesday evening by sending your name to marketing@math.byu.edu.

Using Math in the Real World

The Department of Mathematics is excited to introduce a new degree program in Applied and Computational Mathematics (ACME). Beginning Fall Semester 2013, this new mathematics emphasis will enable undergraduate students to be better prepared to use their mathematical and computational skills in a way that can be applied to real-world problems.
ACME will offer students a tightly integrated combination of coursework and computer labs, along with a capstone project and a close mentoring with faculty. Students will be admitted into the two-year core curriculum at the beginning of their junior year, so interested students are highly encouraged to prepare early by taking all the required prerequisites during their freshman or sophomore year (Math 290, 313, 334 & 341).
The Applied and Computational Mathematics Emphasis gives students the opportunity to learn and apply what they are learning in both core courses and labs. The core courses will help students develop skills in math modeling, math analysis, and algorithm design. The labs will teach students technologies for big data problems and high performance computing.
The new curriculum consists of eight credits per semester of advanced undergraduate coursework in mathematics, statistics, and computation. In addition, students will fulfill an emphasis requirement in one of several areas in the pure and applied sciences; examples include economics, finance, operations research, actuarial science, physics, chemistry, computer science, geoscience, business analytics, biostatistics, and several areas in engineering.
Dr. Jeff Humpherys, an associate professor, is the program coordinator directing the launch of this new emphasis.
“(The program) provides the right skill set for students to learn and helps them to do very well right out of the gate,” Humpherys said.
The new emphasis was created after the success of BYU’s Interdisciplinary Mentoring Program in Analysis, Computation and Theory (IMPACT program) that was started six years ago.  IMPACT is a program that allows students to learn, apply and grow in the pure and applied sciences through high-quality research. More information about this group can be found at impact.byu.edu.
“You have to have deep theoretical understanding to be able to keep up with the pace of technology,” Humpherys said. “This emphasis prepares students for graduate placements.”
Humpherys said none of the students from the IMPACT group struggled with finding jobs or pursing doctorate degrees. Students from the program have had offers from Goldman Sachs, Adobe, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, National Security Agency, and many small start-up companies.
One of the greatest advantages the Applied and Computational Mathematics Emphasis will offer students is the ability to expand their skillset. Students will learn computer programming, relational databases, numerical simulation, and scientific visualization. These skills are invaluable in the current industry.
Enrollment for the Applied and Computational Mathematics Emphasis is first come, first-serve, as only 40 students can fit in a classroom. Again, students are encouraged to take the prerequisites as early as possible since acceptance occurs only once a year.

2012 Faculty Sucess

Faculty in the Math Department continue to bring in awards and honors for Brigham Young University. 2012 proved to be an especially successful year.

Two of the department’s professors were inaugurated as Fellows of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) in November. Jim Cannon and Michael Dorff were among only 3.5% of the 30,000 AMS members to be honored. The AMS Fellows program recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication and utilization of mathematics.

“The AMS is the world’s largest and most influential society dedicated to mathematical research, scholarship and education,” said AMS President Eric M. Friedlander. “The new AMS Fellows Program recognizes some of the most accomplished mathematicians — AMS members who have contributed to our understanding of deep and important mathematical questions, to applications throughout the scientific world and to educational excellence.”

In addition to being inaugurated as an AMS Fellow, Michael Dorff will be the recipient of BYU’s Lawrence K. Egbert Teaching and Learning Faculty Fellowship award at next year’s Annual University Conference. Dr. Dorff was nominated and selected as the recipient due to his extensive involvement in mentoring undergraduate students and helping other professors explore similar mentoring opportunities. He is the founder and director of the $2.6 million Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics (CURM). The fellowship will provide extra resources for Dr. Dorff to continue his work in mentoring of undergraduate students in research and sharing the BYU model for mentoring with professors and students at other institutions.

David Wright was honored by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) with the Intermountain Section Teaching Award. This award is presented annually to college or university teachers within the mathematical field who are excellent teachers and whose influence in teaching has gone beyond the classroom. Besides his excellent classroom teaching, Dr. Wright has been instrumental in establishing and fostering the BYU Math Circles which helps students in K-12 schools experience the excitement of mathematics. Dr. Wright’s ability to foster students’ interest in mathematics has rightfully earned him this award.

Written by Michelle Drennan

BYU Math Department

An Award Winning Formula

Professor Michael Dorff of the Department of Mathematics will be announced as the recipient of the Lawrence K. Egbert Teaching and Learning Faculty Fellowship award at next year’s Annual University Conference.

The teaching and learning fellowship award, which has only existed for a few years, was created to recognize faculty members that have made a significant impact in the area of mentored learning.

Professor Dorff, who has been teaching at BYU for 12 years, was nominated and eventually selected as the recipient because of his extensive involvement in mentoring undergraduate students and helping other professors explore similar mentoring opportunities.

As part of Professor Dorff’s efforts to improve undergraduate research, he received a $1.26 million NSF grant in 2006 to create and direct the BYU sponsored “Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics,” (CURM). NSF has since renewed funding of the program with another $1.28 million grant to continue the successful project.

Dorff explains the purpose of this organization. “It is used to take the BYU model for mentoring and share it with professors and students at other institutions. CURM trains and offers financial support to these professors and students.”

Professor Dorff is very excited to continue working with students on a regular basis. Sometimes at a university, especially one the size of BYU, it’s difficult to maintain a close student-professor relationship. However, “when you are a mentor,” says Dorff, “you really get to know the students. You get to give help and guidance. You can offer career advice, spiritual advice and even sometimes you can help them with dating. You get to see them grow, and that’s really neat.”

The fellowship award will “provide some flexibility to do more things,” says Professor Dorff. “It’s nice to have funds to support undergraduate research and I’m very grateful to BYU.”

—Brian Shaw, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

—Photo credit to Mathematical Association of America

Killer Test + Mad Skills = Mathlete

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Forget the mistletoe and holly berries. Bring on the calculators, pencils, and scratch paper.

Mathematics students found all of these at this year’s Intermountain Math Competition, an annual test that determines whether BYU, University of Utah, Boise State University, Idaho State University, or University of Nevada Reno has the best math students. In this math competition among 36 students, the top six scores were all from BYU.

“My hand is tired because you have to write really fast,” said Sam Dittmer, a junior from Indianapolis, who got a perfect score of 70/70. The two students who tied for second (also from BYU) received 60/70, still a score to be reckoned with at the Intermountain Math Competition.

BYU uses the competition to prepare for the more difficult Putnam Exam that happens every year on the first Saturday of December. The Putnam brings 4,000 students from 600 universities face to face in one enormous battle of brains.

“The Intermountain Math Competition is not as hard as the Putnam, where the median score is zero, but it’s a good stepping stone to prepare for the event,” said Dr. Pace Nielsen, who compiles the questions from various universities for the Intermountain Math Competition.

The scores of the Intermountain Math Competition help professors decide which three students will represent BYU at the Putnam Exam. And this year, they are very excited about the current team of “mathletes.”

“We’ve got a really good group right now. We’re all excited to see how the team does on the Putnam test this December,” Dr. Gary Lawlor said. “We think they can score in the top 10 this year.”

Dr. Lawlor received 30th place on the Putnam his senior year at BYU in 1983. He went on to get his PhD in mathematics at Stanford. Now he passes on his Putnam wisdom by teaching Math 391R, a class dedicated to preparing students for the challenging exam, with Dr. Tiancheng Ouyang.

“To prepare for the Putnam competition, we help them with five different subjects including algebra, calculus, number series, combinatorics, and probability,” Dr. Ouyang said.

For many Putnam veterans, solving equations and winning competitions is something they’ve loved since their youth.

“The biggest thing that honed my skills in mathematics was just the desire to do well in these competitions,” Dr. Lawlor said. “As a byproduct of that, I did well in my classes. And because I did well on the Putnam test, that opened doors for me to go to graduate school.”

Those who participate in the Putnam Exam get instant recognition by many of the top graduate programs in the nation, as well as the National Science Foundation. This can help winning students receive scholarships and be accepted to their preferred grad school.

Perhaps this December, a little Christmas magic will rub off on this year’s competing Putnam “mathletes,” and they’ll finally crack that elusive top 10 ranking.

—Curtis Penfold, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences