Public Lectures Unveiling Math (PLUM)

Department of Mathematics

Duke University


The PLUM lecture series are aimed at general audience and focused on promoting mathematics in general by presenting inspiring stories about mathematics. They could be based on an incredible journey for finding fundamental truths or could be about how mathematics is used for real world applications. The PLUM is supported by the iiD, by the Department of Math, by the Department of ECE, and by Duke Undergraduate Math Union.

Fall 2017

Speaker: L. Mahadevan School of Engieering and Applied Mathematics, Harvard University

December 6, 2017 (Wednesday), French 2231, 4:30-5:30pm (Tea at 3pm Physics 101)

Title: Morphogenesis: geometry, physics and biology

Abstract: A century after the publication of D'Arcy Thompson's classic On growth and form his vision has finally begun to permeate into the fabric of modern biology. Within this framework, I will show how a combination of biological and physical experiments, mathematical models and computations allow us to begin unraveling the physical basis for morphogenesis in the context of examples such as shoots, leaves, guts and brains.


Spring 2017

Speaker: Francis Su, Department of Mathematics, Harvey Mudd College

February 13, 2017 (Monday), Physics 128, 4:30-5:30pm (Tea at 3pm Physics 101)

Title: Voting in Agreeable Societies

Abstract: When does a candidate have the approval of a majority? How does the geometry of the political spectrum influence the outcome? What does mathematics have to say about how people behave? When mathematical objects have a social interpretation, the associated results have social applications. We will show how some classical mathematics can be used to understand voting in "agreeable" societies. This talk also features research with undergraduates.


Speaker: Henry Segerman, Department of Mathematics, Oklahoma State University

April 18, 2017 (Tuesday), Physics 130, 4:30-5:30pm (Tea at 4pm Physics 101)

Title: 3D Shadows: Casting light on the fourth dimension

Abstract: Our brains have evolved in a three-dimensional environment, and so we are very good at visualising two- and three-dimensional objects. But what about four-dimensional objects? The best we can really do is to look at three-dimensional "shadows". Just as a shadow of a three-dimensional object squishes it into the two-dimensional plane, we can squish a four-dimensional shape into three-dimensional space, where we can then make a sculpture of it. If the four-dimensional object isn't too complicated and we choose a good way to squish it, then we can get a very good sense of what it is like. We will explore the sphere in four-dimensional space, the four-dimensional polytopes (which are the four-dimensional versions of the three-dimensional polyhedra), and various 3D printed sculptures, puzzles, and virtual reality experiences that have come from thinking about these things. I talk about these topics and much more in my new book, "Visualizing Mathematics with 3D Printing"


Fall 2016

Speaker: Chris Wiggins, Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Columbia University

September 20, 2016 (Tuesday), Physics 128, 4:30-5:30pm (Tea at 4pm Physics 101)

Title: Data Science @ The New York Times

Abstract: TBA


Speaker: Eugenia Cheng, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Sheffeld

October 13, 2016 (Thursday), Physics 128, 4:30-5:30pm (Tea at 4pm Physics 101)

Title: How to Bake π, Making abstract mathematics palatable

Abstract: Mathematics can be tasty! It is a way of thinking, and not just about numbers. Through unexpectedly connected examples from music, juggling, and baking, I will show that math can be made fun and intriguing for all, through hands-on activities, examples that everyone can relate to, and funny stories. I'll present surprisingly high-level mathematics, including some advanced abstract algebra usually only seen by math majors and graduate students. There will be a distinct emphasis on edible examples.


Spring 2016

Speaker: Tadashi Tokeida, Department of Mathematics, Stanford University

April 15, 2016 (Friday), Physics 128, 4:30-5:30pm (Tea at 4pm Physics 101)

Title: A world from a sheet of paper

Abstract: Take a sheet of paper. By folding, stacking, crumpling, tearing, we will tour a rich diversity of phenomena, from geometry and magic tricks to elasticity and the traditional Japanese art of origami. Much of the lecture consists of actual table-top demos, which you can try with family and friends. So then, take a sheet of paper.


Speaker: Mark Goresky, School of Mathematics, Institute for Advanced Study

April 21, 2016 (Thursday), Physics 128, 4:30-5:30pm (Tea at 4pm Physics 101)

Title: A glamorous Hollywood star, a renegade composer, and the mathematical development of spread spectrum communications

Abstract: During World War II Hedy Lamarr, a striking Hollywood actress, together with George Antheil, a radical composer, invented and patented a secret signaling system for the remote control of torpedoes. The ideas in this patent have since developed into one of the ingredients in modern digital wireless communications. The unlikely biography of these two characters, along with some of the more modern developments in wireless communications will be described.


Fall 2015

Speaker: Bruce C. Berndt, Department of Mathematics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

October 22, 2015 (Thursday), Gross Hall 107, 4:30-5;30pm (Tea at 4pm at Physics 101)

Title: Ramanujan's Life, His Earlier Notebooks and His Lost Notebook

Abstract: Ramanujan was born in southern India in 1887 and died there in 1920 at the age of 32. He had only one year of college, but his mathematical discoveries, made mostly in isolation, have made him one of the 20th and 21st centuries' most influential mathematicians. An account of Ramanujan's life will be presented. Most of Ramanujan's mathematical discoveries were recorded without proofs in notebooks, and a description and history of these notebooks will be provided. In 1976, George Andrews found Ramanujan's "lost notebook" in the library at Trinity College, Cambridge. A history and description of this lost notebook will also be provided. The lecture will be accompanied by photographs of Ramanujan, his home, his school, his notebooks, and those influential in his life, including his mother and wife Janaki.