MathBlast Draws 134 High School Students

134 students from Mt. Greylock and BArT High Schools attended this morning’s Williams College MathBlast, dedicated to the memory of founder Professor Olga R. Beaver, who passed on four days earlier. Sponsored by the Williams Center at Mount Greylock and the Williams College Math Department, MathBlast is a morning for 10th graders and math teachers from local area schools to participate in hands-on activities with Williams College professors. Students and teachers each choose three thirty-minute workshops ranging from statistics to the shape of the universe.


Thanks to Mia Smith ’16, Kaatje White, and Wendy Wang for photos.

The Workshops

1. The Archimedes Palimpsest by Professor Matthew Gardner Spencer.
In 1998, a moldy, falling apart prayer book was sold at auction for 2 million dollars.  Hidden inside were long lost texts by Archimedes. We’ll take a quick peek at the mathematics, and see how Archimedes used a lever and some ingenuity to compute areas of curved shapes.

2. Cascading into Chaos by Professor Stewart Johnson
Chaos has become an integral part to the way we understand our world. The defining features of a chaotic system can be explored using a hand-held calculator and a parabola.

3. Fractals and Natural Shapes by Professor Cesar Silva
Natural shapes such as trees, clouds, and feathers, while difficult if not impossible to model with Euclidean geometry, can be described using fractals. We will use a simple computer program to learn about and create fractals.

4. Intro to Stats by Professor Andrey Glubokov

Statistics tries to make sense of scattered and random data that we collect from life. It has its own tools, its own methods, and its own point of view. We will examine some of these using life examples and will conduct some surveys in class. You will play the roles of both scientist and research subject.  Welcome to Stats!

5. Milk or Tea First? by Professor Bernhard Klingenberg
In a cup of tea with milk, do you think you can tell whether the milk or the tea was poured first? That question inspired R.A. Fisher, one of the greatest statisticians to develop a procedure to find out based on experimental data. These days, we use Fisher’s test in a variety of fields, for instance to find out if a drug works better than a placebo. We are going to revisit the original experiment and analysis and then the class will be asked if they can tell the difference between two soft drinks. Come see what it takes to convince me!

6. The Shape of the Universe by Professor Satyan Devadoss

People used to believe our Earth was flat, but now we know its a sphere. So what is the shape of our Universe?  Does it have an end? How can we possibly understand its shape when it always surrounds us? Come find out the answers based on the simple idea of multiplying pictures.

7. The Soap Bubble Geometry Contest by Professor Frank Morgan
Soap bubbles continue to fascinate and mystify mathematicians. Important discoveries have been made by students. The show will include a little guessing contest with demonstrations, explanations, and prizes.

8. Using The Median Can Be Dangerous by Professor Qing (Wendy) Wang
Given a set of observations, how can we describe the “center” of all those values?  The median is a pretty good kind of average that is resistant to extreme observations. However, it almost killed off Dr. Stephen Jay Gould! Based on the real life story of Dr. Gould, we will see how misleading median might be. At the end of the talk, we will also check out some astonishing figures related to reliability of medical test results for rare diseases.