Tag: Mathematics

On Main Hall Green With … Scott Corry: New frontiers for a mathematics scholar

Portrait on Main Hall Green: Scott Corry (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Scott Corry is leading the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science into new territory.

The professor of mathematics is the chair of the newly renamed department, which has grown significantly, adding two faculty positions, one last year in statistics and one upcoming in computer science. Multiple new courses have been added to the curriculum, the mathematics major has been redesigned, including the addition of a statistics track, the computer science major has been reconfigured, and a new minor in statistics and data science has been launched.

Corry joined the Lawrence mathematics faculty in 2007. He returned to the department chair position in 2019 after previously holding that post in 2014-15 and 2017-18. He has taught calculus, algebra, number theory, and geometry courses while pursuing his research interests in analogies between Riemann surfaces and finite graphs. He was a visiting fellow at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cambridge, England, in 2009, and was recognized with Lawrence’s then-named Young Teacher Award in 2011.

He earned his doctoral degree at the University of Pennsylvania and his bachelor’s degree at Reed College.

We caught up with Corry to talk about his interests on and off campus.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

Students should know that I believe they can enjoy math. Too often, people have fixed ideas about whether or not they are “math people,” and they carry anxieties about their mathematical abilities. This is the wrong approach. I want students to relax into the creative play that lies at the heart of mathematical exploration, and to feel the joy of solving problems and studying interconnections between ideas. As in all things, the more you enjoy your work, the more likely you are to succeed at it.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

In recent years, more and more of my energy has been devoted to chairing the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, and I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoy hiring and supporting new colleagues, working with them to revise our curriculum, and collaborating to support students in new and more substantial ways. My own mathematical work and teaching will always be the bedrock of why I love being at Lawrence, but the recent challenge of department-building and curricular revision is exciting.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

A few years ago, I wrote a book called Symmetry and Quantum Mechanics that describes the exquisite mathematical structure underlying the central physical theory of the microscopic world. While I’ve been interested in physics for a long time—I started out as a physics major before switching to math—I never expected to make a scholarly contribution. But I found myself writing that book as a labor of love after embarking on a reading project with my good friend Doug Martin from the LU Physics Department. This is a great example of the power of collaboration to push us in unexpected directions, and it was honestly the most fun I’ve ever had with an intellectual project.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?  

I think it would be nice to be a science journalist, doing the important work of explaining scientific developments to a popular audience. I’m thinking especially of someone like Natalie Wolchover and her writings for Quanta magazine. Over the past decade or so, I’ve discovered a real passion for writing, and I enjoy the challenge of learning and explaining new things.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

There is a secluded bench next to the Buchanan-Kiewit Wellness Center that looks out to the Fox River over the LU Sustainable Garden. Although I haven’t been there recently, in my early years at Lawrence I often ate my lunch there, weather permitting. It is a nice place to take a break, read a book, or simply catch your breath during an otherwise busy day.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

Stanley Cavell’s The Claim of Reason. This ambitious and unusual book of moral philosophy traverses a wide swath of thought, beginning with Wittgenstein’s ideas about language, moving through the epistemological challenge of skepticism, and culminating in an exploration of Shakespeare’s tragedies. It had an immense impact on me as a college student, and I continue to return to it to this day.

Mahalia Jackson’s rendition of If I Can Help Somebody. Just listen.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. An ensemble cast delivers a complicated and touching performance tied together by an excellent Aimee Mann soundtrack.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

2 Minutes With … Martha Strawbridge: Merging passions for music and math

Martha Strawbridge ’20 conducted research on math and music with math professor Alan Parks. She’ll be presenting an academic poster on her work at a math conference in Denver in January. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrence students on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

Math and music may seem like two distinct subjects with no significant correlation. Not true, and Martha Strawbridge ’20 is trying to change that narrative, highlighting the ways in which mathematics and music can be used to understand each other.  

“I’ve been playing saxophone since I was in sixth grade, so I’ve had a lot of time on the performance side,” the Lawrence University senior said. “When I came [to Lawrence], I wanted to become a jazz saxophonist.”  

Strawbridge, from Longmont, Colorado, came in as a saxophone performance major, and while taking classes in both the Conservatory of Music and the college, she grew increasingly interested in mathematics.  

“I knew I liked math in high school, but I took a calculus class here and I loved it so much that after my freshman year I decided to become a math major,” she said. 

Strawbridge continues to be part of the Conservatory as a saxophone performance minor. She also creates big band compositions with Patty Darling, director of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble and a jazz professor.   

“It wasn’t so much I wanted to switch; I just wanted to start doing more math and still kind of pursue music,” Strawbridge said. “It was more that I wasn’t as interested in performing.”  

A perfect combo

She found a way to combine her two interests last year when she attended a mathematics symposium where professors were presenting research they had been working on. Lawrence mathematics professor Alan Parks presented his research on mathematical music theory, studying ways in which math and music inform and influence each other.

After the symposium, Strawbridge applied to conduct research with Parks.  

 “It worked out really well, and he and I already knew each other from classes and some independent studies,” Strawbridge said. “So, I applied, and he knew I was really interested in music and math, so it was kind of like a natural match.” 

In tune with research 

With a grant in hand to support women in science and math, Strawbridge was able to conduct research in mathematical music theory over the summer.  

“It was an interesting process figuring out what we were going to research,” she said. “Professor Parks is a musician, too. So, we were wondering if it was going to become like music theory, analyzing scores and depicting them mathematically. Or if it was going to be really math heavy.  A lot of time it was just both of us reading stuff that interested us.” 

Mathematical music theory is a relatively new area of study.

“In the standard Western tuning system, you have 12 notes,” Strawbridge said. “[We tried to figure out] what are different ways we can imbed that into space that’s enlightening for people, or at least interesting?”

Next steps 

Parks and Strawbridge are now working to get their research published in the Journal of Mathematics and Music. And Strawbridge has been selected to present her research in January in Denver at a joint meeting of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). 

“I’m presenting the poster that I made,” Strawbridge said. “It will be very cool to explain what I was doing. It’s really fun.”

While that audience will be with people steeped in mathematics, Strawbridge said she also loves explaining the connections between music and math to people who aren’t necessarily involved heavily in either.

“I feel like math and music are both like, ‘oooh, music or math, I can’t do either of those,’ and it’s, like, ‘Well, I can talk to you about these ideas and you can understand more than you think you would.’ I think that was a really fulfilling aspect of our research, too.”

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.