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!

A Pi Day to Remember

On March 14, BYU students were welcomed by a record-breaking sunny day to enjoy this year’s Pi Day festivities—the biggest BYU Pi Day celebration to date!
Activities were bigger and better than ever this year, and students didn’t hesitate to notice.  Over the course of just a couple of hours, thousands of students streamed past the various activities and participated in the fun.  Usual favorites such as Pi Sudoku, Pi Frisbee, Pi Basketball, and Buffon’s Needle attracted crowds as always.  Students cheered and clapped as they watched their professors get messy at the Pi-the-Professor booth.  Others got messy themselves during the Pie-Eating Contest.
The most popular and exciting attraction of the day was a human orbitron, sponsored by Qualtrics.  The human orbitron is a device in which a person is strapped in the center of three rotating circles (see below).  Dozens of students lined up to be able to experience this fun ride usually reserved for pilot and astronaut training.
High temperatures weren’t the only records to be broken on Pi Day 2013.  Clark Anderson, a junior from Wisconsin, broke the Pi-recitation record by reciting exactly 989 digits of pi from memory.
“I just memorized pi last summer and so I wanted to come here and break the record,” said Anderson. “I assigned each two digit number a person, an action, and an object. And then I created a story in my head so instead of numbers I’m memorizing this story and then I convert it back into numbers.”
If the day wasn’t exciting enough, the Math Department gifted free t-shirts to anyone with a Pi Day birthday. One student even won a t-shirt for having the word “pi” in his name (Pierce).  All in all, spirits were high as students and faculty celebrated pi and all of the mathematics behind it.  The festivities concluded with a countdown to 1:59, in order to complete pi’s digits of 3.14159.
Pi Day 2013 was a great success and the planning for next year’s celebration is underway! To view pictures of the event, visit the department’sFacebook page.

Record-breaking Putnam Results

Seven proved to be a lucky number this year for the Brigham Young University Mathematics Department.  History was made when the William Lowell Putnam Competition announced that this year’s BYU math team won seventh in the nation.  This record-breaking achievement is the pinnacle standard in showcasing the talents of a university’s mathematics program.  In 2010, the Math Department broke into the top twenty for the first time with a 16th place win.  The Putnam Competition is a prestigious competitive examination that draws more than 500 universities and thousands of undergraduate students to compete each year.
Each school is allowed three members to represent the university team.  Led by Professor Tiancheng Ouyang, this year’s team comprised of Peter H. Baratta, Samuel Dittmer, and Hiram Golze; all mathematics majors.  Forty other students from BYU competed on an individual basis.
High individual performances were also achieved this year.  Hiram Golze received the highest individual ranking of 49th in the nation with a score of 50 points.  Samuel Dittmer and Peter Baratta both received national rankings of 97th with a test score of 41 points. This six-hour test consisting of twelve questions usually has a median score of zero.
“The Putnam Competition is extremely high-profile – it is the gold standard for competitions in Mathematics.  We are extremely proud of this accomplishment!  This ranking will help us immensely in making others aware of what a remarkably strong undergraduate mathematics program we have here at BYU.” says Dr. Robin Roundy, Department Chair.
He further adds, “We are very proud of the students who competed in this exam!  In addition to the three official team members, a good number of other BYU students obtained excellent scores.  The faculty involved, Professors Tiancheng Ouyang, Pace Nielsen, David Wright and Gary Lawlor, are also warmly commended.”
The William Lowell Putnam Competition first began in 1938 and was created to provide a setting in which colleges and universities could compete against one another in mathematical studies.  The competition is under the administration of the Mathematical Association of America.  For more details regarding this competition, go to

AMC 8 Recognition Ceremony Recap

On Tuesday, February 26, 2013, the Brigham Young University Mathematics Department hosted its annual AMC 8 recognition ceremony for elementary and middle schools along the Wasatch Range.
The AMC 8 (American Mathematics Competition) is a 25 question, 40 minute test, ranging from easy to difficult, given to elementary and middle schools to test their knowledge on various levels of math, especially emphasizing problem solving. The problems are designed to challenge students beyond what is generally taught at their schools.
AMC 8 promotes enthusiasm and positive attitudes towards math. Many students today do not have much excitement towards learning math, and they generally want to stop after the required high school level. However, this test helps to show students their problem solving skills can be useful for math skills after the high school and college levels.
This year, over 152,570 students took the test worldwide. The highest possible score to get on the test is a 25. Only 226 out of the worldwide participants scored a perfect 25. This year, if a student scored a 12 or higher on the test, he or she was invited to the AMC 8 recognition ceremony to be recognized for their hard work. Utah schools who participated this year included: Beehive Science/Tech. Academy, Centerville Junior High, Waterford, Lakeridge Junior High, Art City Elementary, Canyon View Elementary, Cherry Hill Elementary, Highland Elementary, Foothill Elementary, Freedom Prepartory Academy, Hawthorne, Midvale Middle School, Provo High School, Reid School, Rock Canyon, San Rafael JHS, Spanish Fork JHS, Valley View, Vista Heights Middle School, Wasatch Junior High, Wasatch School, Weber State, West High School, and Westfield Elementary.
Awards were given to outstanding achievers—Distinguished Honor Roll (Top 1%), Honor Roll (Top 5%), and Achievement Roll (students in 6th grade and below who scored 15 or above). Annie Yun, an 8th grader at Wasatch Jr. High, scored the highest in Utah with a perfect score of 25. Tarun Martheswaran, one of the youngest participants, a 4th grader at Midvale Middle School, scored an excellent score of 18.
A variety of speakers presented at the event. Dr. Wright, a Brigham Young University Professor of Mathematics, spoke on the purpose of the AMC 8 and recognized the excelling participants.  Dr. Wright has been instrumental in getting the AMC 8 up and running for many Utah schools as well as hosting the annual AMC 8 ceremony.
Dr. Joe Price, a professor in the Department of Economics at Brigham Young University, also gave some congratulatory remarks. He recognized the hard work of these students and encouraged them to never give up on their goals. Dr. Price claimed that being good at math can open up many doors for the future, including science, economics, and engineering.
Dr. Richard Brown, Dean of Engineering at the University of Utah, spoke of various careers in engineering. He said engineering is what makes our world today; from clothes to buildings engineers are a part of creating exciting and extraordinary objects. Dr. Brown told these students that with their skills and interests they can become great contributors to the future world.
To learn more about the AMC 8 test visit or contact Dr. Wright at 801-377-6336 or

Integration Bee Results

Stakes were high as students from BYU and UVU competed to win the Integration Bee on March 8th.  Similar to a spelling bee, the Integration Bee was a competition in which students tested their problem-solving abilities by solving integrals within a set time limit.
The Integration Bee began with over 30 students, but within just a couple hours was down to the final nine.  Pressure mounted as students were eliminated one-by-one, but friends and family cheering from the back of the room kept the mood of the competition light-hearted and fun.
The final nine competitors in the 2013 BYU Integration Bee were as follows:
1st Place: Yifeng Xu (BYU)
2nd Place: Michelle Millerberg (BYU)
3rd Place: Matthew Beesley (BYU)
4th Place: Victoria Kala (UVU)
5th Place: John Bennett (BYU)
6th Place: Joseph Ward (BYU)
7th Place: Hiram Golze (BYU)
8th Place: Sam Dittmer (BYU)
9th Place: Michael Gundlach (BYU)
This tradition has been a great opportunity for students who love math to get together and participate in some friendly competition. Thank you to all the students who participated, and also the faculty who were willing to help out.  We will be looking forward to another competition next year.

Math vs. Stats Basketball Tournament

Competition is in the air amongst math majors, and this time it has nothing to do with grades.


On Saturday evening, March 23, students from the Math and Stats Departments will get together to participate in a friendly but competitive basketball tournament.  Playing off of the natural rivalry that exists between the two majors, students will have the opportunity to pull together and work to claim the title of the “winning major”.


The tournament will be held from 5-7pm in rooms 140 and 156 of the Richards Building (RB) on BYU Campus.  All are welcome to come and watch, so bring your friends!  Refreshments will be provided and, of course, prizes for the winning team.


If interested in participating in the tournament, please contact the following:

Math Majors: Email Travis at

Stats Majors: Email Colin at

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

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  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

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
“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.