Duke Math News - Sat May 2 20:58:27 1998

Math Department Celebration

On Tuesday, April 28, the mathematics department will honor all math majors and, in particular, our various prize-winners at a party in the math department lounge. The events will begin in room 113 at 4:30 with a short presentation by Garrett Mitchener, Jeff Mermin and John Thacker of their award-winning paper on grade inflation. At 5:00, with the assistance of Dean Robert Thompson, scholarship recipients, participants in the Virginia Tech, Putnam and Mathematical Modeling competitions will be recognized and the Julia Dale and the Menger awards and checks will be conferred. This will be followed by plenty of food for all. All math majors, graduate students and faculty are encouraged to attend this event. For some students, this may be the last opportunity to meet and talk informally with math faculty and friends.
A good calculator does not need artificial aids.

--Lao Tze, from the Tao Te Ching


Outstanding Modeling Team

This year's team for the Mathematical Contest in Modeling spent from Friday morning until Monday afternoon in early February locked away in the depths of the Physics Building, working on the Grade Inflation Problem. The team, consisting of Jeff Mermin '00, John Thacker '01, and Garrett Mitchener '99, earned a ranking of Outstanding, the highest possible award. Only seven teams world wide earned such a high ranking. The team has been invited to present their paper at a math conference in Toronto, expenses paid. The two problems for this year were to render oblique cross sections of MRI scans, and to find a way to select the top ten percent of students in a college where the average grade is an A-. Unlike the problems in most math competitions, these problems have no single right answer. Solution papers are judged based on creativity, clarity, and completeness.

Duke Takes Second Place in the
Putnam Contest

The team of Nathan Curtis '01, Andrew Dittmer '99 and Noam Shazeer '98 took second place in the 58th William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition. On December 6, 1997, a record 2510 undergraduate contestants from 419 institutions in the United States and Canada struggled for 6 hours on 12 very challenging math problems. Over half of the contestants nation wide, most of whom are among the top math students at their colleges, scored only 0 or 1 points out of a maximum of 120 on this competition. All 15 Duke participants recorded a score of at least 10, placing them each in the top third. Curtis and Dittmer ranked among the top 14 of these 2510 contestants and Shazeer ranked 20th. With rankings very similar to these, Duke captured first place last year, winning for the second time in four years. A Duke team took second place in the 1990 Putnam competition. This year, Harvard regained its title. The other teams in the top five were Princeton, MIT, and Washington University. Two Duke freshmen received great scores. Carl Miller '01 received Honorable Mention for his rank of 40, John Clyde '01 placed in the top 90. Clyde, Curtis, Dittmer, Miller and Shazeer had each won medals at the International Mathematical Olympiads before coming to Duke. Other Duke participants, Nathan Bronson '99, Jeff Mermin '00, and Garrett Mitchener '99, ranked in the top 8% nationally while Christopher Beasley '99, Michael Colsher '01, Sarah Dean '00, John Hyde '99, and Daniel Neill '01 each scored among the upper 20%. For their exceptional performance, the Putnam Competition will award Dittmer and Curtis $1800 while Shazeer picks up $1050. The team members also collect the Karl Menger Award of $250 for the best performance among Duke students on the Putnam competition. The prize money for the winners will be distributed during the math awards day on April 28. In addition to the individual cash award, the Putnam Competition will grant the Duke math department $20,000 for its second place finish. This money will be used for Duke University Math Union activities, the undergraduate math lecture series, travel by undergraduates to national math society meetings, and to support other aspects of the undergraduate program in mathematics. For more information, see http://www.math.duke.edu/ and http://www.scu.edu/SCU/Departments/Math/putnam.

Wear the Putnam!

Wear your own 1997-98 Duke Math shirt to impress your friends and your boss this summer. Show your support of one of the top undergraduate programs with this distinguished dark blue shirt featuring an impressive geometric design on front. The solution to the Putnam problem that inspired this design is available free with your purchase. The shirts are available in large and extra-large for $8.50 from the department secretary in room Physics 121.

Awards and Scholarships

Julia Dale Prize Winners

The 1998 Julia Dale Prize for excellence in undergraduate mathematics goes to Andrew Dittmer '99 with second prizes to James Harrington '98 and Noam Shazeer '98. In his first year at Duke, Dittmer wrote a research paper that he published in the American Mathematics Monthly. After two years of service in Italy for the Mormon Church, Dittmer returned to his studies at Duke with considerable fluency in several Italian dialects as well as a sophisticated math research problem that he continues work on under the direction of Professor Richard Hain. Dittmer played an essential part in Duke's 1993 and 1996 championship Putnam teams and finished ninth in the nation on Duke's second place 1997 Putnam team. Harrington's accomplishments in mathematics and physics include the Karl Menger Award in his freshman year and independent research in physics. Next year, he will begin work on his doctorate in Physics, specializing in quantum computing, at California Institute of Technology. In his first semester at Duke, Shazeer aced two 200 level math courses and ranked sixth in the nation on the 1994 Putnam team. He helped lead Duke to its first and second place Putnam finishes in 1996 and 1997. After graduation, Shazeer will remain at Duke to work for his Ph.D. in computer science. Julia Dale was an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Duke University who died early in her career on January 13, 1936. Friends, relatives, and colleagues of Professor Dale established the Julia Dale Memorial Fund in 1938. It was the first memorial fund established in honor of a woman member of the Duke University faculty. The fund provides income to support the Julia Dale Prize.

Karl Menger Award

The Karl Menger Award is given in recognition of superior performance in the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. This year's awards go to the members of Duke's Second-Prize-Winning Putnam team, Andrew Dittmer '99, Noam Shazeer '98, and Nathan Curtis '97. The Menger Award ($250 for each student) will be given at the Math Department Celebration in the Math Lounge on Tuesday, April 28 at 5:00 p.m. Karl Menger was a well-known twentieth century mathematician who held academic positions in Europe and the United States and was widely published. The Karl Menger Award was established by a gift to Duke University from George and Eva Menger-Hammond. Karl Menger was Eva Menger-Hammond's father.

Goldwater Scholarship

W. Garrett Mitchener '99 and three other Duke students were among the 316 recipients of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship this year. The Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1186 mathematics, science and engineering students nationwide. Recipients receive up to $7500 toward college expenses. According to Dean Mary Nijhout, the Goldwater Scholarship is the premiere undergraduate award of its type in these fields. Since the award program began in 1989, 33 Duke students including 13 math majors have been named Goldwater Scholars. For more information, see http://www.act.org/goldwater.
Nature laughs at the difficulties of integration.

--Pierre-Simon de Laplace

News and Events

Undergraduate Math Lecture

On Wednesday, February 11, Professor Frank Morgan of Williams College and Princeton University, delighted a large audience of students and faculty with a lecture entitled The Soap Bubble Geometry Contest, a guessing contest with demonstrations, explanations, and prizes. Using his own soap bubble solution and specially designed wire frames, Morgan illustrated some fascinating properties of geometric shapes called minimal surfaces. Morgan chatted with his undergraduate hosts at a reception before the lecture and at dinner afterwards about mathematical teaching and research.

Graduation Luncheon

As in the past two years, diplomas will be presented in a brief ceremony to first majors in mathematics and physics after a luncheon in the Levine Science Research Center Dining Room. The luncheon, for first and second mathematics majors, first and second physics majors, and their guests, will follow the 1998 University Graduation Exercises on Sunday, May 17.

Conference in Honor of DMJ

On May 1 and 2, Duke University will host a conference honoring the Duke Mathematical Journal and the International Mathematics Research Notices. The speakers include Jean-Michel Bismut (Paris), Spencer Bloch (Chicago), Richard Borcherds (Cambridge, UK), Benedict Gross (Harvard), Helmut Hofer (NYU), David Jerison (MIT) and Peter Sarnak (Princeton). For more information, see http://math.duke.edu/conferences or contact Angelika Langen at langen@math.duke.edu.

International Congress of Mathematicians

Associate Professor David A. Smith will be joined by George Andrews of Pennsylvania State University and Donald Lewis of the National Science Foundation in a discussion and debate on calculus reform at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Berlin this August. Smith will argue a ``pro'' position and Andrews a ``con'' position with Lewis moderating. Also at this quadrennial meeting, Assistant Professor Paul S. Aspinwall will address the Congress on mathematical physics and algebraic geometry.

Scoville and Weisfeld Retire

Richard A. Scoville will retire this year after more than 35 years of service to Duke University. Scoville received his doctorate under the direction of Shizuo Kakutani at Yale University. While at Duke, he worked in ergodic theory and combinatorics and published several papers many as a co-author with Leonard Carlitz. He looks forward to a life of nonchalance and insouciance. Morris Weisfeld, Professor of Mathematics and longtime Managing Editor of the Duke Mathematical Journal, will retire this year after 31 years at Duke University. Weisfeld assumed the helm of the Duke Math Journal in 1974. He served as Managing Editor except for two years until 1997. In 1991 he founded a new journal, International Mathematics Research Notices, or IMRN for short, published by Duke University Press. He will continue as as Managing Editor of IMRN for the foreseeable future.


Duke Professor Wins Pólya Prize

Associate Professor Xin Zhou has won the 1998 George Pólya Prize for his joint work with Professor Percy Deift of New York University. The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) has praised Zhou and Deift for their ``pathbreaking extension of steepest descent methods for the asymptotic analysis of oscillatory Riemann-Hilbert problems.'' Together with Professor Peter Sarnak of Princeton, they will receive an engraved medal and cash award at the annual SIAM meeting. For more information, see http://www.siam.org/prizes/polya.htm.

Summer Plans

Several Duke math majors will study math while earning money this summer. Jeffrey Mermin '00 will attend the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at the University of Washington. Sarah Dean '00 will work at the National Security Agency. Other Duke math majors expect offers of similar employment soon. Please let us know your summer plans by sending an email message to wgm2@acpub.duke.edu.

Math Degree Candidates, Academic Year 1997-98

First Majors

Shaeeta Kendretta Brown (AB)
Don Joseph Burbacher (BS)
Mary Elizabeth Burke (AB)
Timothy Ryan Deering (BS)
Deborah Goldfarb (BS)
James William Harrington (BS)
Brian Jeffrey Joe (BS)
Adam Patrick McInroy (BS)
Colleen Catharine Mitchell (BS)
Lucinda Lea Pitzer (AB)
Rebecca Anne Roberson (AB)
Jyoti Rajagopal (AB)
Amanda Bystrom Schott (AB)
Noam Mordechai Shazeer (BS)

Second Majors

Gretta Elizabeth Bartels
Robert Lawrence Daniel
Timothy Austin Lutz
Patrick Ted Martone
Douglas Robert Parrell
Samuel Martin Wolfson


Ari Daiel Berger
Scott Andrew Buschmann
Jonathan Michael Dileo
Eric Gramond
Oleg I. Grodnensky
Brandon Richard Hall
John Michael Hardy
Jeffrey Ross Mensch
Kee Paik
Heather Raine Peebles
Mike Yen Shen
James Patrick Vere

Master of Arts

Andrew Ladislaus Barnes
Laura Anne Taalman


Charles David Fargason, Jr.
Anna Vladimorova Georgieva
Christopher Thomas Odden
Kirsten Elizabeth Travers
James Scott Rolf

The imaginary number is a fine and wonderful recourse of the divine spirit, almost an amphibian between being and not being.

--Gottfried Whilhem Leibniz

Problem Corner