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Past MAA Distinguished Lectures

Tuesday, November 1
6:00 - 7:30pm

MAA Carriage House
1781 Church St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036

Note: This event is now full. Click here to register for the wait-list to this lecture!

About Celebration of Mind

The Celebration of Mind uses puzzles, games, and magic to delight, instruct, and bring people together in a spirit of fun, both at annual gatherings and as a year-round repository of resources. As Martin Gardner said, you can learn more when you’re in a state of entrancement, and that’s our guiding principle. On and around October 21 every year, Celebration of Mind events all over the world share the legacy and many interests of this prolific, accessible American writer, who introduced general audiences to many fascinating topics in mathematics and science over a 50-year period . In the process we continue to create and collect resources that inspire new generations to explore a wide range of intellectual pursuits, and their intersections.

Algorithmic Puzzles and Martin Gardner

Dana Richards
George Mason University

The vast majority of mathematical puzzles ask for the existence of a solution. It is merely an exercise when the method is known and it is more of a puzzle when the method is not clear. An algorithmic puzzle takes this further by only asking for the method itself or a property of the method. It is in this sense that much of computer science is puzzle solving. We discuss the theory behind this in the context of material taken from Martin Gardner’s Scientific American column. The answer to the following puzzle will be given:

There are five pirates dividing up 100 gold coins. Pirates are strictly ordered by seniority, are very logical, and wish to live. The rule pirates use to divide gold is: (1) the most senior pirate suggests a division, (2) all pirates vote on it, (3) if at least half vote for it then it is done, otherwise the senior pirate is killed and the process starts over. What happens?

About Dana Richards
Dana Richards is an associate professor of Computer Science at George Mason University. His research is on theoretical and algorithmic topics. He has been a friend of Martin Gardner for nearly four decades and has edited Gardner’s book, The Colossal Book of Short Puzzles and Problems.

Hands on Puzzles!

After the lecture by Dana Richards, guests will be invited to break into smaller groups in order to engage in some hands-on puzzles provided by Bill Ritchie of ThinkFun.

About Bill Ritchie
Bill Ritchie is president and co-founder of ThinkFun, for over 30 years the world’s leading maker of logic puzzles and mind challenging games. He is responsible for the company’s strategic direction and new product development. A lifelong entrepreneur, Bill was the founding president of the World Entrepreneurs’ Organization and is the first recipient of the Sam Loyd Award, presented by the American Game and Puzzle Collectors for outstanding entrepreneurial promotion of mechanical puzzles. His personal passion is using games to teach thinking skills and improve reasoning abilities.

Moon Duchin
6:30 PM - October 24, 2016

MAA Carriage House
1781 Church St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036




Abstract: With the election just over two weeks away, maybe it's a good time to step back from the horse-race coverage and think about the mathematical fundamentals!  Voting is actually a really hard math problem:  how do you fairly aggregate the preferences of millions of people into a single authoritative outcome?  In this talk, I'll try to weave together math, politics, and civil rights to tell a collection of different stories clustered around the idea of "one person, one vote."

Biography: Moon Duchin is an associate professor of Mathematics at Tufts University and is the founding director of Tufts' new interdisciplinary Program in Science, Technology, and Society, which spans scholarly approaches to putting science in social context.  She has degrees in math and women's studies and a long-standing interest in the history, philosophy, and anthropology of science.  In math, her work is in low-dimensional geometric topology, geometric group theory, and dynamics.  She lectures widely on her research and engages in educational outreach to all ages of students, with a particular focus on broadening participation in mathematics.  She has a PhD from the University of Chicago, a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation, and recently served as a plenary speaker for the American Mathematical Society.

If you want to read more about Moon Duchin's lecture, click here.

If you want to watch a video summary of Moon Duchin's lecture, click here.

Ken Ono
6:30 PM - October 13, 2016

MAA Carriage House

1781 Church St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036



Abstract: Ramanujan's work has has a truly transformative effect on modern mathematics, and continues to do so as we understand further lines from his letters and notebooks. In this lecture, some of the studies of Ramanujan that are most accessible to the general public will be presented and how Ramanujan's findings fundamentally changed modern mathematics, and also influenced the lecturer's work, will be discussed. The speaker is an Associate Producer of the film The Man Who Knew Infinity (starring Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons) about Ramanujan. He will share several clips from the film in the lecture.

Biography: Ken Ono is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Mathematics at Emory University. He is considered to be an expert in the theory of integer partitions and modular forms. He has been invited to speak to audiences all over North America, Asia and Europe. His contributions include several monographs and over 150 research and popular articles in number theory, combinatorics and algebra. He received his Ph.D. from UCLA and has received many awards for his research in number theory, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Packard Fellowship and a Sloan Fellowship. He was awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering (PECASE) by Bill Clinton in 2000 and he was named the National Science Foundation’s Distinguished Teaching Scholar in 2005. In addition to being a thesis advisor and postdoctoral mentor, he has also mentored dozens of undergraduates and high school students. He serves as Editor-in-Chief for several journals and is an editor of The Ramanujan Journal. Visit his web page at

Evelyn Lamb
6:30 PM - September 15, 2016


MAA Carriage House

1781 Church St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036


Abstract: For two thousand years, mathematicians tried to prove that Euclidean geometry, the geometry you probably learned in high school, was all there was. But it's not! In the early nineteenth century, János Bolyai and Nikolai Lobachevsky independently discovered that by tweaking one of Euclid's postulates, geometry can look totally different. We will explore the rich world of hyperbolic geometry, one of the new and beautiful systems of geometry that results from this tweak. Our guides on the adventure will be mathematically inspired artists and artistically inspired mathematicians, including M.C. Escher, Daina Taimina, and Henry Segerman.

Biography: Dr. Evelyn Lamb is a freelance math and science writer based in Salt Lake City. She earned her Ph.D. in mathematics at Rice University in 2012 and taught at the University of Utah until 2015. She began her science writing career in 2012 with a AAAS-AMS mass media fellowship at Scientific American. It was love at first blog post, and she has been making mathematical concepts fun and accessible to a general audience ever since. In addition to math, she loves music, sewing, and the outdoors. Dr. Lamb has written for outlets including Scientific American, Slate, Nature News, and the American Mathematical Society. Her blog Roots of Unity is hosted on the Scientific American blog network, and she coauthors the Blog on Math Blogs for the AMS. Follow her on Twitter: @evelynjlamb.

If you want to read more about Evelyn Lamb's lecture, click here.

If you want to watch a video summary of Evelyn Lamb's lecture, click here.

Talithia Williams
6:30 PM - June 8, 2016

MAA Carriage House

1781 Church St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20036

Abstract:Carol Dweck’s research on having a “growth mindset” posits the idea that by tackling a problem that is mildly difficult to solve, we can increase our brain’s problem solving ability and our overall capacity to learn. Likewise, Clifford Adelman, author of the U.S. Department of Education's Answers in the Tool Box and The Toolbox Revisited, says that the highest level of high school mathematics is the strongest indicator for college degree completion. A student’s mathematical ability continues to make a difference in their likelihood of completing college no matter what their eventual major might be. In this talk, we’ll begin a discussion about how all of us, whether math educators, grandparents, or volunteers, can begin to cultivate a mathematical mindset in the young people around us. Mathematics is a great equalizer and while the causes of America’s achievement gap are out of our hands, a potential solution is well within our reach.

Biography: Dr. Talithia Williams takes sophisticated numerical concepts and makes them understandable and relatable to everyone. As illustrated in her popular TED Talk, Own Your Body's Data, she demystifies the mathematical process in amusing and insightful ways, using statistics as a way of seeing the world in a new light and transforming our future through the bold new possibilities inherent in the STEM fields. As an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, she has made it her life's work to get people—students, parents, educators and community members—more excited about the possibilities inherent in a STEM education.

In her present capacity as a faculty member, she exemplifies the role of teacher and scholar through outstanding research, with a passion for integrating and motivating the educational process with real-world statistical applications. Her educational background includes a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Spelman College, Masters' degrees in both Mathematics from Howard University and Statistics from Rice University, and a Ph.D. in Statistics from Rice University. Her professional experiences include research appointments at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the National Security Agency (NSA), and NASA.

Dr. Williams develops statistical models which emphasize the spatial and temporal structure of data and has partnered with the World Health Organization in developing a cataract model used to predict the cataract surgical rate for countries in Africa. Through her research and work in the community at large, she is helping change the collective mindset regarding STEM in general and math in particular— rebranding the field of mathematics as anything but dry, technical or male-dominated, but instead a logical, productive career path that is crucial to the future of the country. She is active in her faith community and serves with her husband as a Christian marriage mentor couple, all while being the mom of three amazing boys.

If you want to read more about Talithia Williams's lecture, click here.

If you want to watch a video summary of Talitiha William's lecture, click here.