Math colloquium introduces students to complex mathematical concepts

The Augustana Math Colloquium returned Sept. 21 and has since hosted four speakers. The event is held every Tuesday by the Mathematics Department and features presentations on a wide variety of math subjects.

“These are topics that you are unlikely to see at a regular class here at Augustana,” said professor Daniel Perry, who coordinates the event. “The idea is to give students a larger perspective on what mathematics offers.”

While freshmen can earn First Year Seminar (FYS) credit for attending the Colloquium, there is no work required for the event. The talks give students the chance to encounter complex mathematical ideas without the expectations that accompany math courses. 

“Another point of this [event] is there’s no grade involved,” Perry said. “No one is going to expect you to get everything. In fact, if you get one thing you’ve been a huge success, and if you get nothing that’s totally okay as well.”

Math professor Lindsay Erickson presented the first talk of the year. She discussed game theory and math theory, which were both topics in her doctorate research. Erickson provided a basic description of the subfields, as well as how they are used to play a game called Nim.  

“Graph theory isn’t a class that students get to take regularly, […] and no one takes game theory courses here because we don’t offer them,” Erickson said. “So if you’re going to speak where [students] don’t even take it, then you’re going to need to give them the crash course.”

The colloquium has also featured professor Fedya Manin from the University of California Santa Barbara and Ben Moldstad, a doctoral candidate at the University of Montana. Manin presented on the geometric topology behind soap molecules, while Moldstad presented on Morse Theory and the Euler characteristic. Speakers have historically been Augustana faculty, mathematicians who Perry knows personally and members of the larger math community. 

“Some of it’s been reaching out to friends; it’s also been a little bit of reaching out to the larger community,” Perry said. “Dr. Fedya Manin gave a talk because someone had requested last semester to hear […] an analyst, so I put a message on a board asking if anyone would be willing.”

While the math being presented can be challenging, the event averages an attendance of more than a dozen students.

“Response has been pretty good,” Perry said. “Because math varies from talk-to-talk it’s very easy to get lost, […] but from what I’ve seen, at every talk there’s someone who ends up being really engaged with what’s being discussed.”

The Augustana Math Colloqium’s last meeting was held Oct. 18. Dr. Eric Stucky, a professor at Charles University in Prague, discussed number theory.

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