Dr. Nielsen receives the College Young Scholar Award

The Brigham Young University Math Department is pleased to announce that Dr. Pace Nielsen has received the College Young Scholar Award from the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. This honor is awarded to a professor in the college who has completed excellent research within the first ten years of their career with BYU. Dr. Nielsen was nominated for his research in number theory and ring theory and for his work mentoring undergraduates.

Recently, Yitang Zhang proved that there were infinitely many pairs of primes less than 70 million apart.  Dr. Nielsen was a collaborator on the Polymath8 project, which improved upon the Zhang gap size, bringing the bound of 70 million down to 246!  Congratulations to Dr. Nielsen for this great honor!


BYU Hosts High School State Math Contest

BYU hosted the High School State Math Contest on Monday, April 25th. Several thousand students all across the state from junior high to high school came to participate in this competitive event. After completing the test, students recieved a free BYU Math t-shirt and got to eat lunch at the BYU Cannon Center. Students with exeptional scores will be invited to attend the recognition dinner, also hosted by BYU. Check this website in the near future to find this years scores from the event: statemathcontest.byu.edu

Congrats April 2016 Math Graduates!

On Friday, April 22nd, the College of Physical & Mathematical Sciences held their convocation in the Wilkinson Ballroom. The Math Department had the most its seen in attendance for many years. Following convocation, the department held a luncheon open for all family and friends of the graduates. Thanks to all those who attended and participated in this exciting event!
Like BYU Math on Facebook and check out all the graduation pictures here!

Math Department Announces New Chair, Dr. Michael Dorff

The BYU Math Department is excited to announce the appointment of Michael Dorff as the new chair of the Department of Mathematics. Drs. Paul Jenkins and Darrin Doud will serve as associate chairs. Dr. Dorff is replacing Dr. Robin Roundy, who served as the Department of Mathematics chair for three years.


Michael J. Dorff, Mathematics—

Dorff received his BS in Mathematics Education from BYU and his PhD in Complex Analysis from the University of Kentucky in 1997.

Dorff is the founder and director for the Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics (CURM), which began in 2007. He also started and leads BYU’s “Careers in Math” Speaker Series and BYU’s summer 8-week Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). He has received over two million dollars in grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support and fund these programs.

Dorff has received national recognition for his dedicated work in developing mentored undergraduate research in mathematics. In 2010, Dorff won several awards, including the Distinguished Teaching Award from the college, the Maeser Excellence in Teaching Award from BYU, and the Haimo Award from the Mathematics Association of America. Dorff has also received BYU’s Lawrence K. Egbert Teaching and Learning Fellowship and was named a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society in 2012.

Retired Coach Leads Team to Victory

“Retired coach leads team to victory” – a seemingly unlikely headline, but an accurate description of a recent BYU event.

Retired professor David Wright led a group of thirteen high school students to a fifth place finish in the online “Math Madness” AMC Interstellar High School Mathematics National Championship. These students, sponsored by the BYU Department of Mathematics, may just be the newest generation of BYU Mathletes. A total of 346 high school teams competed in the Mathematical Association of America-sponsored event. After three preseason contests, BYU’s team was put in a bracket with 64 teams with average team size between 11 and 15. The BYU team won its bracket and earned a fifth place ranking.

The team score is the sum of the top five students.  In the championship match, BYU defeated eighth ranked Davidson Academy of Nevada by a score of 39 to 34.  BYU’s top five scorers are:  Nicholas McConnell (10/10), Thomas Draper (8/10), Annie Yun (7/10), Josh Speckman (7/10), and Quinlan Leishman (7/10).  All of these contestants are currently in grades ten and eleven and are likely to compete again for BYU next year. Dr. Wright invited students who had previously attended BYU Math Camps, BYU Math recognition programs, or whom he had connections to through BYU Math majors and alumni to join the Math Madness team. Students from out-of-state are able to participate on the BYU team because the competition is entirely online.

Dr. Wright retired in August 2015, but has remained involved in the BYU math community, especially with student outreach programs. He coordinates competitions, math summer camps, and other activities for junior high and high school students, hoping that some of the students will attend BYU and compete on the Putnam mathematical team.

For more information, visit this link (http://in-ter-stel-lar.com/math_madness/5/rankings).

Here is a list of the members of the BYU team who have contributed to a winning score in at least one match:

Annie Yun, Junior at West High, Utah

Rohan Jairam, Junior at West High, Utah

Daniel Swingle, Senior at Seven Lakes High School, Texas

Ben Baker, Senior at West High, Utah

Josh Speckman, Sophomore at West High, Utah

Thomas Draper, Sophomore at Montgomery High School, New Jersey

Nicholas McConnell, Junior at Princeton High School, New Jersey

Quinlan Leishman, Junior at Bountiful High School, Utah

Lucy Ward, Ninth Grader at Mill Creek Jr. High, Utah

Emil Geisler, Ninth Grader at Mill Creek Jr. High , Utah

Eli Child, Ninth Grader at Mill Creek Jr. High, Utah

Alex Cheng, Ninth Grader at Midvale Middle School, Utah

Collin Allred, Eighth Grader at Mountain Ridge Junior High, Utah


Team members who are nationally ranked in the top 1,000 out of 17,539 participants.


Nicholas McConnell:  5

Josh Speckman:  93

Thomas Draper:  104

Annie Yun:  194

Rohan Jairam:  511

Lucy Ward:  551

Alex Cheng:  625

Ben Baker:  975

“To Be or Not To Be” a Math Major

Choosing a major is tough.  BYU’s wide variety of options can be a bit overwhelming, and gathering information on each one can feel virtually impossible.

The Math Department wants to do everything possible to make this selection process easier for students.  If you have ever had any interest in mathematics, or maybe you just did really well in a math class, you are invited to attend an info session about the Mathematics degree on Thursday, October 17.  The meeting is intended to provide all the basic information you need to know about being a mathematics major or minor.  In addition, there will be a discussion on all the different career options you would have with a degree in mathematics.  A question and answer session after the general presentation will follow.

If a successful future in mathematics is not enough to convince someone to attend the info session, pizza may do the trick.  Free pizza will be provided for all who attend.  So if you have an interest in mathematics, and have friends who also enjoy math and free food, then come and join us on the 17!

The “To Be or Not To Be” a Math major/minor info session will be on Thursday, October 17 at 5:30pm in room 1170 TMCB.

To learn more about the benefits of a degree in mathematics, visit WeUseMath.org.

Leaving a Legacy

You might see Dr. Donald Robinson’s name on a plaque in the Talmage, unaware of the legacy he left behind.

Born in 1928 on a leap day, this 84 year-old retired BYU professor was one of the first Mathematics PhDs to teach at BYU when he started teaching here in 1956.

“I’m proud of him for the way he’s tried to live his life, do the best he could, and serve other people,” said Allen Robinson, Dr. Robinson’s son.

The math department awarded Dr. Robinson with a plaque that is now displayed in the Talmage Building and thanked him for his generous endowment that has allowed and will continue to allow four math students every year to have a full-ride scholarship, for many years to come.

Dr. Don Robinson demon­strated an exceptional love for mathematics and the students who study it. A former professor and chair of the department, Don first discovered his passion for mathematics in grade school, as he recalled finding entertainment in working on extra problems his teacher would challenge the class to solve. He met his sweetheart, Helen, in Junior High School where they both played in the orchestra. Don and Helen were married by 1952 in the Salt Lake City LDS Temple.

Don pursued his doctorate in math­ematics from the Case Institute of Technology, Ohio. His studies were almost interrupted, as he was drafted into the army. However, he was discharged due to eyesight problems. Don graduated from the Case Institute of Technology and then went on to teach at various institutions. He eventually came to Brigham Young University, and was only the second professor with a PhD to join the Math Department faculty. Dr. Robinson remained at BYU for 43 years. His area of research was linear algebra dealing with the matrix theory.

Don enjoyed his teaching career and was a dedicated faculty mem­ber, receiving many awards for his outstanding contributions to the Math Department. He served as Chair of the Math Department three times, and many of the programs enjoyed by students today are due to his contributions and dedicated service.

You may also see Marcellus Burton’s name, along with the name of his wife, on a plaque in the Talmage.

Shirley and Marcellus Burton also had a passion for learning and education. Growing up, Marcellus would often be found at the kitchen table working calculus problems. A child of the Great Depression, he observed that his civil engineer uncle always had a good job, and, not wanting to be poor, Marcellus decided early on he wanted to follow the same path.

Upon the beginning of the second World War, Marc anticipated service in the army and shifted his studies to meteorology so he could be immediately inducted. In 1944, as a newly minted 2nd Lieuten­ant, his first duty assignment was Marana Army Air Base. It was here that he met his future wife, Shirley Etheredge.

Shirley was born in Norfolk, Vir­ginia, where she attended school and became a teacher. She always encouraged a healthy curiosity and emphasized its strong connection with books. Not satisfied to teach only Monday through Friday, she also taught Sunday school through­out her life. Her love of young people and of teaching inspired the Shirley and Marcellus Burton Scholarship.

Shirley and Marc married in 1945 and spent 26 years of service in the Air Force. During this time they raised five children and traveled with them all over the world as Marcellus completed 18 duty as­signments. The couple retired from the Air Force in 1970, and Marcel­lus returned to San Jose State, where he had attended in his youth, and taught meteorology there for the next 14 years. To this day, Marcellus considers himself to have a profound love of numbers.

To date, six students have benefit­ed from these generous scholarship donors. To learn more about how to donate to the Math Department, contact Dr. Robin Roundy at robin@math.byu.edu or call 801-422-1747.

—Curtis Penfold, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

National Survey of Student Engagement

In 1998, The Pew Charitable Trusts designed the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to get a more accurate and meaningful picture of quality to communicate to the public. The NSSE project provides colleges and universities with valuable information about students’ views of their college experience by annually administering a specifically aimed survey.

The NSSE survey, designed by experts, asks students about their college experiences-how they spend their time, what they feel they have gained from their classes, their assessment of the quality of their interactions with faculty and friends, and other important indicators.

BYU has participated in these surveys for the last eleven years. By doing so, it has provided valuable insight to how the university compares on a national scale. During the 2012 administration, all graduating seniors were asked to participate in the survey. By surveying all eligible students, BYU Institutional Assessment and Analysis was able to create reports at the program level for many of the programs across campus.

In Winter Semester of 2012, the survey was sent out electronically to all graduating seniors, totaling to be 7,762 seniors. This report focuses on the senior responses. BYU received responses from 3,364 of the seniors, resulting in a response rate of 43% compared to 23% among BYU’s corresponding Carnegie Classification benchmark group of universities.  Carnegie’s Classification for BYU is Research University because of BYU’s high research activity.

BYU’s Mathematics Department and BYU overall received high scores in many of the survey’s different categories.

The following are graphs which relate to various categories within the survey.


New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Michael Barrus

The Brigham Young University Mathematics Department is proud to welcome Dr. Michael Barrus, a visiting mathematics professor with a knack for research.

Dr. Barrus grew up in Utah and received his undergraduate and master’s degres in Mathematics from Brigham Young University. During his time at BYU, Dr. Barrus was enrolled in a class with Dr. David Wright. It was through a small study group for this class that Dr. Barrus met his future wife, Michelle Kitchen.

“I was afraid to ask her out right away; I thought it might make our study sessions awkward,” Barrus said. “So instead I waited until the end of the semester to take her on a date.” From there, the rest was history.

The couple eventually moved to Illinois so Dr. Barrus could continue his education with a PhD in math as well as a master’s degree in math teaching from the University of Illinois. He then taught for three years at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, where he and a colleague started Math Circle for local elementary school students.

Dr. Barrus was drawn to BYU because of the plethora of research opportunities offered by the math department. During his time here, he has already become involved in working with seventh graders through Math Circle.

In his free time, Dr. Barrus enjoys reading novels (such as Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables) and practicing the piano.

-Michelle Drennan, Mathematics Department

The BYU Mathletes are Back

The limelight is tricky for many star athletes, but fame’s learning curve is no problem for a trio of star mathletes.
A year after their rap music video caught the nation’s attention, the BYU mathletes lived up to the hype with a 7th place finish in the nation’s mathematical equivalent of March Madness – beating out math powerhouses such as Stanford, Cal-Tech, Duke, Michigan and UC-Berkeley along the way.
“This means a lot – it tells the world that we are doing great things here,” said BYU math professor Tyler Jarvis. “They’re going to have to take us seriously now that our name is up there with the big boys.”
BYU undergrads Hiram Golze, Sam Dittmer and Peter Baratta wrote their way into BYU’s record books with their performance in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. Since 1938, thousands of the nation’s top college math students compete annually in this grueling six-hour exam. It’s so challenging that sometimes half the participants don’t score a single point.
The Cougars were led by a 50-point effort from the senior Golze. When the final seconds ticked off the clock, it finally hit home that his days competing for BYU were over.
“I stayed in the room where we took the test for a while, talking with my teammates, kind of like someone playing their last football game might stay on the field for a bit longer after the game than normal to soak in the final moments,” Golze said.
Entering the season, both Dittmer and Golze had secured spots on the three-student roster. For Dittmer, beating Stanford proved especially sweet. As a national math champ in high school, Dittmer received offers from Stanford and MIT but ultimately signed with BYU.
“I don’t talk a lot of trash or anything like that,” Dittmer said. “But we’ve been working towards this Top 10 finish for years, trying to show that we can compete with the top programs in the country and it paid off.”
Forty other students vied for the final spot on the team, and the suspense lasted beyond kickoff. The Mathematical Association of America allows any college student to compete individually, but the three students whose scores will represent their school need to be designated in advance.
Coach Tiancheng Ouyang gave sophomore Peter Baratta the nod but kept the selection secret until the exam ended. Baratta didn’t disappoint, as both he and Dittmer chipped in 41 points.
As a result, the team eclipsed the 1979 BYU squad’s 11th place finish for the best mark in school history. It’s also the fifth consecutive season in the Top 25 for the BYU Mathletes – also a school record. Expect no drop-off next year, as Dittmer returns for his senior season and Baratta will compete as a junior.
“We’ve been quietly orbiting near the Top 10 for quite a few years now,” Jarvis said. “I don’t think it’s going to be our last time in the Top 10, either. We’ve got good students, coaches and recruiting.”
With the nation facing a shortage of graduates in STEM programs (science, technology engineering and mathematics), BYU’s math department offers a blueprint for success. Jarvis served as BYU’s math department chair from 2006 to 2012. In that span, the number of math majors at BYU nearly doubled and the number of students competing in the Putnam tripled.
A study sponsored by the National Science Foundation also named BYU one of the best universities for learning calculus. The research didn’t just measure how well students learned the subject – it also looked at how much they enjoyed it.
“We realized long ago that a lot of people don’t choose math because of a bad experience they had with a teacher,” Jarvis said. “We’ve shown how fun math can be and that they can find a great career.”
BYU also sponsors junior high and high school math competitions as well as a regional university-level competition. It’s not just for the thrill of scholastically trouncing a pair of sports rivals, although the students celebrate their streak of wins over Boise State and the University of Utah. The higher purpose is to draw more students in the rising generation to a discipline that’s critical to our future.
Three cheers for our three mathletes!