Math Hour | Math Hour Olympiad | Past Events | UW Math Circle |

This page includes descriptions, slides, videos, and related handouts from all the past talks of the Monthly Math Hour at the University of Washington. You can also find information about previous UW Math Hour Olympiads.

**May 19, 2019**

**Bianca Viray**, University of Washington, Mathematics

**The game of SET:
finding patterns in
differences**

SET is a card game where the goal is to find collections of three cards where each of features (color, shape, number, and shading) are all the same or all different. This simple game surprisingly leads to lots of interesting mathematics, including a question which remains unsolved!

Flyer

Video of the talk

Slides from the talk

**April 28, 2019**

**Natasha Rozhkovskaya**, Kansas State University, Mathematics

**Math questions from
an art museum**

We will look at three works of art by Sol Lewitt, Maurits Cornelis Escher and Carlo Crivelli and use them to explore mathematical questions in the fields of combinatorics, complex analysis, and Euclidean geometry.

Flyer

Summary of the talk

**March 17, 2019**

**Sara Billey & Timea Tihanyi**, University of Washington, Mathematics & School of Art + Art History + Design

**Tactile patterns in art
and math**

Video of the talk

**June 3, 2018**

**Math Hour Olympiad**

**May 20, 2018**

**David Pengelley**, Oregon State University

**All Tangled Up and Searching for the Beauty of Symmetry?**

Flyer

Video of the talk

**April 15, 2018**

**Jennifer McLoud-Mann**, UW Bothell

**One Tile at a Time: Mathematicians' Quest to Discover All Convex Polygonal Tessellations**

Flyer

Video of the talk

**March 25, 2018**

**Henry Cohn**, Microsoft Research

**Dense Sphere Packing In a Million Dimensions**

Flyer

Video of the talk

Slides from the talk

**June 4, 2017**

**Math Hour Olympiad**

**May 7, 2017**

**Savery 260**

**Paul Zeitz**, University of San Francisco, Mathematics

**The game is rigged!**

Flyer

Slides

Video Recording (

Exercises

We will look at a variety of wagers and games that guarantee a nearly perfect probability of success to the player who makes the best mathematical analysis. It's not all fun and games, though: our vignettes have important mathematical morals. See the Exercises link for an explanation of the puppies and kittens game strategy.

**April 9, 2017**

**Savery 260**

**Mohamed Omar**, Harvey Mudd College, Mathematics

**Areas of polygons and counting**

Flyer

Finding the area of a general polygon can be quite complicated, especially when it has many sides and strange angles at its vertices. However, for a special class of polygons, there is a beautiful formula for determining their areas that has amounts to counting dots on a page! This talk will guide us through the development of the special formula.

**March 12, 2017**

**Savery 260**

**Emily M. Bender**, University of Washington, Linguistics

**The mathematics of language**

Flyer

Slides

Video Recording (

Mathematics can be used to model how language works and to measure the similarities and differences between different languages. From this, we can build computer software that will automatically process speech and text, for applications such as machine translation, voice activated computer interfaces, and autocorrect. In this talk, we will explore how mathematical objects called trees and feature structures, together with an operation called unification can be used to model English sentences (and also pizza preferences!). We will also learn about how computers are better at finding ambiguity in natural language than people are, but worse at resolving it.

**June 5, 2016**

Math Hour Olympiad

**May 15, 2016**

**Gowen 301**

**Anna Karlin**, University of Washington, Computer Science

**Stable Matching**

Flyer PDF

Video Recording (

In 2012, a Nobel Prize in Economics was given in part for the solution to the following problem: Say we have 100 boys and 100 girls and we want to make them into couples. Everyone makes a list of their ideal partners from 1 to 100 in order of most favorite to least favorite. The question now is whether there is a way to match everyone up so that the matching is “stable”: This means that there is no couple (A,B) in our matching where girl A prefers some other boy to B and boy B prefers some other girl to A. In this Math Hour, you will learn about an efficient algorithm for solving this problem and the fascinating properties of stable matchings.

**April 17, 2016**

**Savery 260**

**Dominic Klyve**, Central Washington University, Mathematics

**The Life, Legacy, and the Lost Library Books of Leonhard Euler**

Flyer PDF

April 15 is the birthday of Leonhard Euler – one of the greatest and most prolific mathematicians in history. This talk will examine the life of Euler, and will discuss some of his major accomplishments, in fields ranging from number theory to geometry. We will also tell stories of the speaker's role in creating the online “Euler Archive” and of the fascinating old books by Euler he discovered in several libraries.

**March 20, 2016**

**Savery 260**

**Jayadev Athreya**, University of Washington, Mathematics

**Bouncing balls, fractions, and grids**

Flyer PDF

Video Recording (

We will discuss how studying the path of a ball bouncing around a square room connects to the study of fractions and the study of grid patterns. The talk will be elementary and showcase connections between geometry, algebra, and number theory. Lots of pictures and patterns!

**May 31, 2015**

Math Hour Olympiad

**May 17, 2015**

**Edwin O'Shea**, James Madison University

**Euclid's Elements: An old and beautiful math book and its influence on Lincoln** (flyer) – video (

Euclid's

**April 12, 2015**

**Jonah Ostroff**, University of Washington

**Mildly Impressive Mathematical Card Tricks** (flyer) – slides, video (

In this talk, we'll look at a bunch of two-person magic tricks, centered on a common theme: how can you convey a lot of information with a small number of choices? We'll see a few examples of these tricks, and then learn a famous theorem that tells us why they work and when they don't. No slight of hand required, but you might need to do some arithmetic.

**March 22, 2015**

**Brandy Wiegers**, Central Washington University

**Mathematical Tiling and Organization** (flyer) – handout, slides, video (

There are many mathematical problems that involve tiling (covering) all the squares on a chessboard (or similar board) with tiles of various sizes. We'll be talking about these problems and then taking tiling to the next level, with new shapes and sizes of tiles covering all types of surfaces. Plan to roll up your sleeves and move those tiles around.

Slides

How many museum guards do you need to post to see every bit of wall-space in a weird art gallery having *N* straight walls that meet at funny angles? We'll see why you need *N/3* guards at most and how this relates to cutting polygons into triangles.

Slides, worksheet, papers: A Midsummer Knot's Dream, The Link Smoothing Game

When you imagine what a mathematician does all day, you probably picture someone standing at a chalkboard covered in equations and numbers. It�s true that many of us do fulfill this stereotype at times, but we also draw amazing and beautiful pictures and think about things that may not seem obviously to be mathematical. In fact, there are many mathematicians who devote their time to thinking about knots. (Think: tying a knot in your shoelace or trying to untangle your headphones.) Some of us even do research on games! We invent interesting games then try to figure out what strategies players can use to win. In my talk, I will show how these two areas of research may actually be combined into an incredibly fun kind of mathematics. We�ll play several games using knots and links and discuss ways we can �stack the deck� and guarantee ourselves a win.

Do you think that everything there is to know about geometry was already discovered ages ago? Think again. Since the time of Euclid, the history of geometry has been a dramatic saga that your middle school teachers probably won't tell you about. It led, more than a century ago, to the mind-bending mathematical discovery that the three-dimensional space we live in might be "curved," in much the same way as the two-dimensional surface of the earth is curved.

In this talk you'll have a chance to learn what it could possibly mean mathematically for space to be curved, how we can detect it, and the fascinating story of how we got from Euclid to here. Along the way, you'll find out about "proofs" by professional mathematicians that turned out to be wrong, bitter personal battles over who was right and who was wrong, a million-dollar prize for solving a mathematical problem, and a mysterious modern-day Russian mathematician who earned it but doesn't want it.

Come and learn some games that you can teach your friends and then win! We will talk about some little-known games for two players, including games called Hackenbush, Toads-and-Frogs, and Nim. It is very easy to learn how to play these games: I will teach you all of them. But learning how to win these games is not nearly so easy. There is a lot of fascinating mathematics involved in the winning strategies.

Although most people identify weather prediction with presentations on their local news broadcast or weather web site, the technology behind prediction is highly complex and based on the numerical simulation of a series of partial differential equations. In this presentation I will discuss the history, technology, and mathematics behind weather prediction, and will describe the future transition to probabilistic forecasting.

Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution states that the number of representatives assigned to each state should be proportional to its population, but what exactly does that mean? It turns out that our nation's founders weren't exactly sure. What resulted was 150 years of politicians, bureaucrats, and mathematicians arguing over a surprisingly tricky math problem. We'll attempt to answer this question ourselves, and then walk through the history that brought us to the method used today.

**June 10, 2012**

*Location:* Room 260, Savery Hall

Math Hour Olympiad

**May 13, 2012**

*Location:* Room 260, Savery Hall

*Speaker:* Eric Brechner, Principal Development Manager, Xbox Engineering Fundamentals

*Title:*"Rainbow Mathematics"

*Video available here*

*Slides available here*

*Abstract:* What time of day is best to see a rainbow? Why is a rainbow shaped like an arch? Which color is on top? Are there ever two rainbows at once?
Rainbows are uncommonly beautiful. Most people have seen them, especially here in Seattle. Yet, most people don't know a rainbow's secrets. A little optics, some math, and your imagination are all you need to unlock rainbows and reveal things few people know. You'll uncover them all for yourself in this engaging talk that turns Snell's law, water, sunlight, and reflection into a beautiful sight.

** April 15, 2012 **

* Location:* Room 260, Savery Hall

* Speaker:* Steven Klee from the UC Davis Department of Mathematics

* Title:* "The Mathemagic of Magic Squares"

--*Video available here*--

--*Slides available here*--

* Abstract:* A magic square is a filling of the squares of an n x n grid with the
numbers 1, 2, 3, ..., n^{2} so that the numbers in all rows and columns
have the same sum. In this talk, we will explore the history of magic
squares, from ancient mathematicians in China, India, and Persia, to
Benjamin Franklin's fascination with constructing magic squares and modern
mathematical problems. We will explore the underlying mathematics of magic
squares. We will end by taking the magic out of magic squares and using
them to understand a mathematical game.

** March 11, 2012 **

* Location:* Room 260, Savery Hall

* Speaker:* Professor Jonathan Brundan from the University of Oregon Department of Mathematics

* Title:* "Domino Tilings and Determinants"

--*Video available here*--

--*Handout available here*--

* Abstract:*
There are two ways to tile a 2x2 board with 2x1 tiles (= or ||).
There are thirty six ways to tile a 4x4 board with 2x1 tiles (you can
check this by listing all the possibilities!).

Question: How many ways are there to tile an 8x8 board with 2x1 tiles?

I'll explain a neat way to work this out using some techniques from graph theory and linear algebra --- though no knowledge of that will be assumed in advance. If there's time I'll talk about some other related combinatorial/counting problems.

** June 5, 2011 **

* Location:* First Floor, Savery Hall

* Time:* 9:30am - 3:00pm

Math Hour Open Olympiad

Olympiad Poster

*--Photos available here--*

The Olympiad is intended for students in grades 6-9.

** May 15, 2011 **

* Location:* Room 260, Savery Hall

* Speaker:* Professor Sara Billey from the University of Washington Department of Mathematics

* Title:* "Computer proofs in Algebra, Combinatorics and Geometry"

*--Slides available here--*

*--Video available here--*

* Abstract:* Have you ever tried to prove a theorem using a computer?
If not, this talk might give you some ideas to help you get started. If so,
this talk will hopefully encourage you to think about the next
questions -- what types of problems are amenable to computer proofs
and how should one publish a computer proof?

We will survey some famous and some not so famous theorems with computer assisted proofs but no known human-only proof. For example, the 4-color theorem and Kepler's conjecture are known to be true only because of computer assisted proofs. In addition, we will discuss some current research where the proof is not reduced to a finite check but instead depends on reaching a halting condition.

**Some useful references:**

** April 17, 2011 **

* Location:* Room 264, Savery Hall

* Speaker:* Dr. Daniel Finkel, Mathematician, Math for Love

* Title:* "Billiard Balls and Laser Beams"

*--Video available here--*

* Abstract:* Imagine standing in a room made entirely of mirrors, with a light bulb in a particular spot. The light is on. You would imagine that the room would be totally illuminated. And yet, you are in complete darkness. How is this possible?

Welcome to the geometry of reflection, where our thoughts turn to laser beams bouncing off mirrors, or billiard balls ricocheting off the sides of a pool table. In this talk, we'll explore the extraordinary reflective properties of geometric shapes like rectangles, triangles, circles, ellipses, parabolas, and hyperbolas. In fact, it's possible to understand many of these shapes almost entirely in terms of their reflective properties.

There are tremendous applications in the real world for reflective geometry, from satellite dishes to solar power, engineering to art to architecture. Reflective geometry is also a great source of purely mathematical questions, including a number of unsolved problems. We'll see the gamut in this lively talk on a unique topic.

** March 13, 2011 **

* Location:* Room 260, Savery Hall

* Speaker:* Professor Sándor Kovács from the University of Washington Department of Mathematics

* Title:* "A glimpse into the sixth dimension"

* Abstract:* Higher dimensional geometry is used in more places than most people realize. Anyone who uses a mobile phone (is there anyone who does not?) takes advantage of higher dimensional geometry during every call. Higher dimensional geometry is used in robotics and cryptography. If you ever bought something on the internet, you were able to do that safely because of higher dimensional geometry.

The main purpose of this talk is to discuss higher dimensions from a practical angle. This is usually an intriguing topic if for nothing else but because it is so out-of-this-world. My hope is that at the end of this discussion the idea of higher dimensions will seem perhaps less romantic and exotic, but more approachable and useful and definitely at least as intriguing as it had been before.

Many people have heard about time being considered the fourth dimension and perhaps even figured out ways to think about the fifth. In this talk we will go beyond both of that and as the main example of the usefulness of higher dimensions I will explain how the geometry of a six dimensional space can tell us about interesting questions regarding plane curves. The cell phone, robotics, and cryptography applications would require a semester long course at least, but I will say a few words about those as well and depending on time we will probably go up to working with 10 dimensions and say at least one word about the true dimension of the space we live in.

Math Hour Olympiad. (Follow the link for the problems, list of winners, and statistics)

** June 6, 2010 **

* Speaker:* Dr. Noble Hendrix, Biometrician, R2 Resource Consultants, Inc.

* Title:* "One Fish, Two Fish, False Fish, True Fish"

* Abstract:* Why do we count fish? The short answer isto eat them. A slightly longer winded explanation is, so that we can harvest fish at a rate such that the population can continue to replace itself. This scientific explanation makes several assumptions, though. Those assumptions are: we understand how fish populations increase and decrease naturally, we understand how fishing affects the population, and we know how accurate our counts of the population are.

I will talk about all three of these topics but mostly concentrate on the final one, because people (Homo sapiens) in general are not very good at counting. As an extreme example of this trait, members of the Pirahc tribe use a "one-two-many" system of counting, and lack a linguistic mechanism for numerals. Although we do not have the same linguistic constraints of the Pirahc, our counts of fish are inaccurate. To quantify the errors in counting, we can use probability models. For example, if I observed 10 fish what is the probability that there were actually 12?

There have been many technological improvements to counting fish. Each new approach has its own set of problems, though. Therefore, building probability models to understand the error in each successive technological breakthrough becomes a recurring process. We will look at some of the more interesting approaches to fish detection, such as video and acoustic imagery. The fundamental approach of using probability models to understand errors in measurement is, of course, not limited to counting fish. Probability models are applied in economics, medicine, and politics among other fields. Application in fisheries does have its unique benefits, however, and eating fish is certainly one of them.

** May 16, 2010 **

* Speaker:* Professor Jennifer Quinn from the University of Washington at Tacoma Department of Mathematics

* Title:* "Fibonacci Fascination"

* Abstract:* Behold, the Fibonacci numbers 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, ... , a number sequence which has long fascinated scholars because of its frequent occurrence in art, architecture, music, magic, and nature. You may have seen them in Dan Brown's novel The DaVinci Code or perhaps a FoxTrot cartoon. The next number of the sequence is generated by adding the two preceding. This talk will exhibit many natural examples of Fibonacci numbers while exploring the unusual (and aesthetically pleasing) patterns of the sequence itself. History and popular culture weave together with beautiful mathematics, plus a Fibonacci trick for good measure!

** May 2, 2010 **

* Speaker:* Professor Jack Lee from the University of Washington Department of Mathematics

* Title:* "The Curvature of Space"

* Abstract:* Do you think that everything there is to know about geometry was already discovered ages ago? Think again. Since the time of Euclid, the history of geometry has been a dramatic saga that your middle school teachers probably won't tell you about. It led, more than a century ago, to the mind-bending mathematical discovery that the three-dimensional space we live in might be "curved," in much the same way as the two-dimensional surface of the earth is curved.

In this talk you'll have a chance to learn what it could possibly mean mathematically for space to be curved, how we can detect it, and the fascinating story of how we got from Euclid to here. Along the way, you'll find out about "proofs" by professional mathematicians that turned out to be wrong, bitter personal battles over who was right and who was wrong, a million-dollar prize for solving a mathematical problem, and a mysterious modern-day Russian mathematician who earned it but isn't sure he wants it.

- Click here to read more about the Poincare Conjecture from the Clay Mathematics Institute. Here, you can read about all seven Million Dollar problems posed by the Clay Institute.
- Here is another article from the Clay Mathematics Institute about Grigory Perelman's proof of the Poincare Conjecture.
- Here is an article from the New York Times discussing Perelman's original proof of the Poincare Conjecture in 2006.
- Here is another New York Times article from March 2010 discussing Perelman's rejection of the Clay Institute's $1,000,000 dollar prize!

The Monthly Math Hour at the University of Washington is partially supported by the NSF award DMS-095-3011.