Pierre de Fermat’s Link to a High School Student’s Prime Math Proof — Quanta Magazine

My latest column for Quanta Magazine tells the mathematical story of the incredible high school student who proved a result about not-quite prime numbers that had eluded mathematicians for decades.

[Daniel] Larsen was a high school student in 2022 when he proved a result about a certain kind of number that had eluded mathematicians for decades. He proved that Carmichael numbers — a curious kind of not-quite-prime number — could be found more frequently than was previously known, establishing a new theorem that will forever be associated with his work. So, what are Carmichael numbers? To answer that, we need to go back in time.

You can read the full article for free here.

Math that Moves the Needle — Quanta Magazine

My latest column for Quanta Magazine explores a century-old geometry problem that anyone who’s ever performed a three-point turn can appreciate.

Imagine you’re rolling down the street in a driverless car when you see a problem ahead. An Amazon delivery driver got their van halfway past a double-parked UPS truck before realizing they couldn’t make it through. Now they’re stuck. And so are you.

There’s a fun math problem here about how much space you need to turn your car around, and mathematicians have been working on an idealized version of it for over 100 years. It started in 1917 when the Japanese mathematician Sōichi Kakeya posed a problem that sounds a little like our traffic jam. Suppose you’ve got an infinitely thin needle of length 1. What’s the area of the smallest region in which you can turn the needle 180 degrees and return it to its original position? This is known as Kakeya’s needle problem, and mathematicians are still studying variations of it. Let’s take a look at the simple geometry that makes Kakeya’s needle problem so interesting and surprising.

You can read all about the surprising resolution of Kakeya’s needle problem in my full column for Quanta Magazine.

Jaipur Literature Festival New York

I’m thrilled to be a part of the upcoming Jaipur Literature Festival in New York City, where I’ll be in conversation with mathematician and novelist Manil Suri. Manil’s latest book, The Big Bang of Numbers, is a tour of mathematics from the ground up, allowing the reader to the experience of the power of mathematical creation as Manil constructs the universe using only math. It is a fun, friendly, and one-of-a-kind book.

In our JLF session A Universe Built on Math, Manil and I will be talking about math, writing, teaching, and everything in between. The talk is happening on September 13th at 4:30 pm at the Asia Society. All the details can be found here.

The Basic Algebra Behind Secret Codes and Space Communication — Quanta Magazine

How can you use systems of linear equations to send secret messages? Just do what NASA does! In my latest column for Quanta Magazine I explore the school math behind Reed-Solomon codes, which are used to safely and securely send data across the solar system.

Space exploration requires tremendous precision. When you’re landing a rover on Mars 70 million miles away from the nearest service station, you need to maximize efficiency and prepare for the unexpected. This applies to everything from spacecraft design to data transmission: Those messages returning to Earth as a steady stream of 0s and 1s are bound to contain some errors, so you need to be able to identify and correct them without wasting precious time and energy.

That’s where math comes in. Mathematicians have invented ingenious ways to transmit and store information. One surprisingly effective method uses Reed-Solomon codes, which are built on the same basic algebra that students learn in school. Let’s drop in on a math class to see how Reed-Solomon codes help transmit and secure information while correcting any costly errors that pop up.

The full article is freely available is here.

2022 — Year in Review

In keeping up with (what is now a 10-year!) tradition, here’s a brief review of my professional year.

Without question my biggest professional accomplishment of 2022 was the publication of my book, Painless Statistics. People are buying it and even saying nice things about it! From start to finish it was an incredible learning process, and I now know what is meant by the saying “It is better to have written a book than to write one.”

I was happy to resume giving talks and workshop again in person in 2022. In the spring I returned to Queen’s College to speak to soon-to-be math teachers about making math by design. And after two years of remote-only teacher workshops, I was thrilled to return to the Math for America offices for The Geometry of Linear Algebra. It’s been exciting to learn so much linear algebra as I teach it, and I already have new workshops and talks scheduled for 2023.

On top of publishing Painless Statistics, it was another busy year of writing. As usual my column for Quanta Magazine provided a year full of the best kind of mathematical challenges, and I had a blast writing about brownie bake-offs and geometric dissections, different kinds of infinities, and Wordle, among other things. And I reviewed Ben Orlin’s book Math Games with Bad Drawings for the American Mathematical Monthly.

Above all, it was just nice to have a professional year that seemed to be trending toward normal.

Here’s to an even more normal 2023!

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