Thursday, 31 March 2011

What Do Math People Do?

Steven Colyer wrote recently to comment on people who were known for other things, but were, or had been mathemticians (too me, it's like being a marine, once you are,  you always are...  "Hooo raaah"... except I'm not, and never was a marine).  He mentioned a couple of folks that I knew, and reminded me of a blog post I had started once and never gotten finished..... So here it is....Thanks Steven
I was a big fan (still am, I guess) of James Burke's series, "Connections", which are still popular on you tube it seems..and was just reminded of a "Burke-like" connection..

It started when I had one of those, "What can you do with math?" questions this morning. Not from a kid trying to avoid learning, but one who was curious because they couldn't imagine what they might do with a math education except teach (as if they know what people do with a history major).
I mentioned my "other life" expereince working in reliability and quality control, and I describe things some of my ex-students do working in non-educational fields in a general cross section of applied mathematical/statistical/actuarial jobs in government and business. 

And when this question comes up I always mention people who have math/sci majors who do/did "other" stuff. Terri Hatcher was a math/engineering student before she went to a casting call to keep a nervous friend company (and found fame). Art Garfunkle earned a Masters from Columbia in mathematics. And of course I mention the Simpsons and Futurama creator, Matt Groening who supposedly had a math or science degree from Evergreen State College in Washington.   (**see more  below) 

Today I happened to mention to the questioning young lady that Hedy Lamar, the famous (she thought she might have heard of her) actress had a patent for a submarine guidance device.
I wasn't sure what she studied in school, but knew that she was regarded as one of the "brainy" beauties of Hollywood. Still, I remembered it so poorly (I blame my age) that I looked back at some notes and was pleased to be reminded of an interesting "connection" . Hedy Lamarr had come up with her navigation device with another artist, the pianist/composer George Antheil.
Together they conceived and patented a frequency-hopping torpedo guidance system: Lamarr contributed the knowledge of torpedo control gained from her husband and Antheil a method of controlling the spread spectrum sequences using a player-piano mechanism similar to those used in the "Ballet Méchanique".

**So I found a list of people who had a math based educations up to some point... Here are a few of them:
Basketball player Michael Jordan started out as a math major, but switched majors his junior year. (journalism if I recall)

San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson received a BS in mathematics from the United States Naval Academy

Tennis player Virginia Wade, who won the singles title at Wimbledon in 1977, received a bachelors degree in mathematics and physics from Sussex University

Teri Hatcher (Lois Lane on "Lois and Clark") was a mathematics and engineering major at DeAnza Junior College.  (The story I heard is that she went to a screening with a friend and they promplty hired her instead)

Danica McKellar (Winnie Cooper on "The Wonder Years") was a mathematics major at UCLA and graduated summa cum laude.  (you have all heard aobut her "Math Doesn't Suck" books)

Retired supreme court justice Harry Blackmun received a degree in mathematics from Harvard.

Corazon Aquino, ex-president of the Philippines, was a mathematics minor at the College of Mt. St. Vincent.

and of course I have mentioned that Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, was in real life a lecturer at Oxford in mathematics, and is famous for his book on Logic.
One of my favorite Lewis Carroll stories is about his gift of a book to Queen Victoria.   Here is the version as it is told on the Mathworld page.
Several accounts state that Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson ) sent Queen Victoria a copy of one of his mathematical works, in one account, An Elementary Treatise on Determinants. Heath (1974) states, "A well-known story tells how Queen Victoria, charmed by Alice in Wonderland, expressed a desire to receive the author's next work, and was presented, in due course, with a loyally inscribed copy of An Elementary Treatise on Determinants," while Gattegno (1974) asserts "Queen Victoria, having enjoyed Alice so much, made known her wish to receive the author's other books, and was sent one of Dodgson's mathematical works." However, in Symbolic Logic (1896), Carroll stated, "I take this opportunity of giving what publicity I can to my contradiction of a silly story, which has been going the round of the papers, about my having presented certain books to Her Majesty the Queen. It is so constantly repeated, and is such absolute fiction, that I think it worth while to state, once for all, that it is utterly false in every particular: nothing even resembling it has occurred" (Mikkelson and Mikkelson).

Christopher adds in a comment, "I know that John Astin from the Addam's Family has a mathematics degree from Johns Hopkins University. It doesn't say that he graduated with a math degree on Wikipedia, but I remember from the playbill for "Once Apon a Midnight" that he has a masters degree in math."  
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