“A mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems,” goes the saying. I tested that theory at a six-week interdisciplinary math research program where I worked with three other undergrads, Macalester math professor Andrew Beveridge, and other top researchers in computer science and applied mathematics.
The program, MAXIMA, is funded by the National Science Foundation. It combines the personalized and battle-tested pedagogy that makes Macalester’s math department shine with the experience of working at a top-tier research institution right here in the Twin Cities.
This rare opportunity to work with people who all understand the same math problem and the vocabulary associated with it was invaluable to my intellectual development.
Our research question was grounded in game theory: What is the minimum number of pursuers needed to capture an evader in a two-dimensional environment with holes? The terminology gets out of hand pretty quickly!
Does the size of the holes matter? Does it matter if they are not convex? And so on. I take some pride in the fact that the most technologically advanced tool we used was a whiteboard. That and the espresso machine!
My Macalester classes such as Number Theory and Real Analysis gave me a sharp aesthetic sense for mathematical arguments. Classes like Computational Linear Algebra and Mathematical Modeling honed my ability to break large, amorphous questions into manageable chunks. Writing for the new Macalester student publication Consonat on connections between math and music gave me confidence in my creative vision.
Coming from a family of artists, I believed that the only path of value must be inherently creative. My view hasn’t changed, but I now see how creative math can be, and I am continuingmy research as my honors project and going on to a PhD program in math.