McDaniel students connect at world’s largest mathematics conference

McDaniel mathematics students Jeff Norton, Brian Theis (partially hidden), Adriana Mendoza, Olivia Brundage, Zach Littrell, Lindsay Heckle, senior Mathematics lecturer Michelle Gribben, Zach Heckle and Tyler Hoffman attend the Joint Mathematics Meetings J
January 28, 2014

Anyone who relishes mathematics found their way to Baltimore Jan. 15-18 for the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) – including a contingent of McDaniel students and their professors.

The national conference annually draws more than 6,500 people to think, listen and talk “mathematics.” Talks and presentations are geared to make complex research clear, to explain why it is important and to connect it to the real world, according to McDaniel Mathematics professor Spencer Hamblen.

“If students only see mathematics inside the classroom, they won't get a full grasp of all of the fun and useful things you can do with math that don't necessarily fit into our particular classes,” says Hamblen. “The art exhibition, the session on Math and the Arts, Math and Fiber Arts, and various sessions connecting mathematics to other sciences provide these to students in an accessible manner.”

Conference attendance plus advance preparation and follow-up reports comprises one of more than 65 Jan Term offerings, which include off-campus study tours, on-campus courses, internships and independent studies. The eight students – all but one are Mathematics majors – who went to the JMM conference are among 572 students participating in Jan Term 2014. 

Lindsay Heckle, who almost followed in big brother Zach’s footsteps by adding a Mathematics major to her Biology studies, headed to the Math and Science section of the conference.

“It was so interesting to see how math applies to population dynamics and virology, which I am particularly interested in,” says the sophomore from Westminster, Md. “Math can be used to show how quickly things spread and how quickly a virus replicates.”

The Math and Technology section drew Tyler Hoffman like a magnet. Although only in his first year at McDaniel, Hoffman recently declared a Mathematics and Computer Science double major and was particularly interested in the role of mathematics in Microsoft’s Kinect.

“Math makes it happen and happen more accurately,” he says, explaining how Kinect is a motion-sensing device used in X-Box games to “read” the players’ movements, which act as the game’s controller. The technology also has a role in how robots “see,” interpret and react to their environment.

Zach Heckle took in as many talks and sessions as time allowed, and the senior Mathematics and Computer Science major brought back to campus an understanding of some high-level research. But for him, the largest mathematics conference in the world offered even more.

“A lot of people excited by math! It was so great to see and talk with so many people with the same interests as mine,” he says.