Schedule of Talks for the 2011-2012 Academic Year
Date: Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Speaker: Prof. David Zitarelli
Department of Mathematics
Temple University
Email: zit at temple dot edu
Title: Hilbert's American Colony
Abstract: No, David Hilbert never crossed the Atlantic. Yet at Göttingen he produced an outstanding cadre of American doctoral students who played important roles in the development of mathematics in the U.S. during the first half of the twentieth century. In this talk we describe the life and careers of those mathematicians who obtained doctorates under Hilbert 1899-1910, emphasizing the critical role they played in what was then the southwestern part of the country, particularly at the University of Missouri. Along the way we compare the schools of American students produced by Felix Klein, Sophus Lie, and David Hilbert.
Date: Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Speaker: Prof. David Lubell
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
Adelphi University
Email: lubell at adelphi dot edu
Title: Let Me Count the Ways
Abstract: Although combinatorial ideas have contributed to mathematics since antiquity, it was in the second half of the twentieth century that combinatorics emerged as a discipline in its own right. Much of this development was fueled by the research divisions of commercial organizations such as Bell Labs, IBM, and the Rand Corporation, as well as such governmental organizations as Aberdeen Proving Grounds and the National Bureau of Standards. Another factor was the sudden appearance of stand-alone periodicals dedicated to various specialties in mathematics. The talk will touch upon the influence both of mathematicians and of the literate laity on twentieth century combinatorics. (And, of course, there was Erdös.)
Date: Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Speaker: Prof. Marjorie Wikler Senechal
Louise Wolff Kahn Professor Emerita in Mathematics and History of Science and Technology
Smith College
Email: senechal at science dot smith dot edu
Title: False Starts in Biogeometry: Whatever Happened to D'Arcy Thompson?
Abstract: In the early 20th century D'Arcy Thompson, a British biologist (better said, naturalist), urged mathematicians to take up the study of biological growth and form. His 700-page 1917 treatise On Growth and Form, "the finest work of literature in all the annals of science that have been recorded in the English tongue," is a compendium of geometry-related questions and problems. Two mathematicians independently took D'Arcy up on his challenge: Dorothy Wrinch and Nicolas Rashevsky. They took very different paths; both proved to be thorny. What had they hoped to do, and why couldn't they?
Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Speaker: Prof. Alexander Jones
Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
New York University
Email: alexander dot jones at nyu dot edu
Title: An ancient Greek analog computer: the Antikythera Mechanism
Abstract: The Antikythera Mechanism was an ancient Greek gearwork device whose fragments were found at the site of a shipwreck from about 70 B.C. Using moving pointers on several dials, it displayed the motions of the heavenly bodies, other astronomical phenomena, and chronological cycles as a function of time represented as a rotary input. The Mechanism's design incorporates sophisticated representations of precise ratios between astronomical periods and of the Greeks' circle-based theories for the motions of the heavenly bodies. These depended on an interesting interplay between mathematics and mechanics.
Date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Speaker: Prof. Larry D'Antonio
Department of Mathematics
Ramapo College
Email: ldant at ramapo dot edu
Title: Whose Line Fits Best? A brief history of linear regression
Abstract: In this talk we compare three approaches to the problem of finding the line of best fit. Each of these approaches arises from problems involving astronomical observations. Euler and Tobias Meyer developed the so-called method of averaging while studying the inequalities of Jupiter and Saturn. The problem of computing the ellipticity of the Earth was the motivation for both the method of the minimum sum of absolute deviations, found in the work of Roger Boscovich, and the familiar least squares method developed independently by Legendre and Gauss.
Date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Speaker: Prof. Jean-Pierre Marquis
Department of Philosophy
Université de Montreal
Email: jean-pierre dot marquis at umontreal dot ca
Title: Abstraction, Formalization and Axiomatization in Early 20th Century Mathematics
Abstract: I look at some of the claims made in the period 1890 and 1931 (approximately) by mathematicians when they put all these three components together. I try to suggest that abstraction is a crucial component that is not entirely understood at first and confused with the others. But it should not be.
Date: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Speakers: Salvatore J. Petrilli and Anthony Del Latto
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
Adelphi University
Email: petrilli AT adelphi DOT edu
Title: Servois' Contributions to Mathematics: His Algebra and Perpetual Calendar
Abstract: François-Joseph Servois (1767-1847) was a priest, artillery officer, professor of mathematics, and museum curator. Servois' research spanned several areas, including mechanics, geometry, and calculus. In this presentation we will discuss Servois' contributions to the advancement of algebra, and, in particular, his influence on the development of linear operator theory. In his 1814 "Essai" Servois attempted to provide a rigorous foundation for the calculus by introducing several algebraic properties, such as "commutativity" and "distributivity." Essentially, he presented the notion of a field, an idea far ahead of its time. Although Servois was not successful in providing calculus with a proper foundation, his work did have an impact on the field of algebra, and influenced several mathematicians, such as Duncan Gregory and Robert Murphy.

We conclude the presentation by discussing the preliminary research on Servois' (1813) "Calendrier perpétuel," a paper in which Servois discussed a perpetual calendar that he designed.

Date: Friday, May 4, 2012
Speaker: Robert S. D. Thomas
Department of Mathematics
University of Manitoba
Email: thomas AT cc DOT manitoba DOT ca
Title: What's most interesting in Theodosios's Spherics
Abstract: While it held its place in the quadrivium for as long as that long tradition lasted, the Spherics of Theodosios has fared less well since. Much of a talk on the three books must attempt to convey what they are about, which is itself of some interest, but I shall try also to give some idea of what else I find of particular interest, based on work to make my new translation more user-friendly. Unlike translating it, that has involved trying to think through it. It is truly a document designed by a committee, but there remains, I think, the mark on it of the first person said to have written on the topic, the enigmatic Eudoxos.