Mathematics & Statistics Seminars
Northern Arizona University


The “Friday Afternoon Mathematics Undergraduate Seminar” (FAMUS) is a weekly event consisting of announcements, talks, and faculty interviews. FAMUS takes place most Fridays at 3:00-4:00pm in Room 164 of the Adel Mathematics Building. Typically the first half of FAMUS consists of a talk on a mathematical topic while an interview of a faculty member takes place in the second half. While Jeff Rushall is on sabbatical in Portugal, FAMUS is hosted by Dana C. Ernst.

Come join us for some entertaining talks! Refreshments always served.

Schedule Spring 2016

Overview of Schedule

Titles and Abstracts

Note that talks are listed in reverse chronological order.

Topological Games

Date: April 22, 2016

Speaker: Andrew Lebovitz (NAU)

Abstract: We’ll play and explore a couple of simple, yet analytically interesting games for two players. Planar graphs and Euler’s characteristic formula will be introduced and used to reveal properties of these games. Bring paper and a pencil! [PDF of Flyer]

Curious and Unusual Numbers

Date: April 15, 2016

Speaker: Ian Williams (NAU)

Abstract: An introduction and shallow exposition concerning the numbers I find the most fascinating, cool, strange and spooky. Followed by a short lesson in how to recite many digits of $\pi$ with ease. [PDF of Flyer]

Deduction Games

Date: April 8, 2016

Speaker: Steve Wilson (NAU-Emeritus)

Abstract: We will spend a few minutes on an academic discussion of two kinds of deduction games. And then we will play one of each. [PDF of Flyer]

How Computers Mastered the Game of Go

Date: April 1, 2016

Speaker: Jeffrey Covington (NAU)

Abstract: Go is a 2000 year old board game, known for its immense complexity. There are more than 40 million Go players worldwide. In March, Google shocked the Go-playing world by creating AlphaGo, a computer program that can defeat top professional players. How did Google accomplish this feat, which was previously thought to be decades away? The answer has major implications for artificial intelligence. [PDF of Flyer]

The Primacy of Unity: Is 1 a Prime Number?

Date: March 25, 2016

Speaker: Patrick Abney (NAU)

Abstract: One question that is frequently answered in a college math class is, “Is 1 prime?” One question that is infrequently answered in a college math class is, “Why is 1 prime or not?” We investigate the latter question from a historic perspective, how the notion of 1 has changed over the millennia, and what some of the more well-known names in mathematics have had to say on the issue. Lastly, we look into practical usage of primes and the implication of the inclusion of 1. [PDF of Flyer]

Knights and Graphs

Date: March 4, 2016

Speaker: Andrew Lebovitz (NAU)

Abstract: Sometimes mathematics finds applications in chess, and the knight is a particularly striking example. “The Knight’s Tour” is a thinly disguised mathematical problem that attracted the attention of Euler, and led to questions that are still unsolved. We’ll also see that the graph-theoretic properties of other knight puzzles have practical implications for chess players. But don’t worry, no knowledge of chess will be assumed in this talk. [PDF of Flyer]

The Mathematics and Art of Voting

Date: February 26, 2016

Speaker: Nellie Gopaul (NAU)

Abstract: In principle, every person’s vote is supposed to carry equal weight in an election. However, this does not always (ever?) happen. In this talk, we’ll look at creative uses of mathematics for political advantage, and how 1 person’s vote $\neq$ 1 vote. [PDF of Flyer]

Rhythms and Rascals

Date: February 12, 2016

Speaker: Phillip Hotchkiss (Westfield State University)

Abstract: One of the beautiful aspects of mathematics is that simple explorations can lead to interesting mathematical questions. Moreover, students are often able to make, explore and answer these mathematical questions. In this talk we will start with a simple musical exploration that will lead us to one of the most famous number sequences and some very cool results by some rascally students.

Euler’s characteristic, soccer balls, and golf balls

Date: February 5, 2016

Speaker: Dana C. Ernst (NAU)

Abstract: A typical soccer ball consists of 12 regular pentagons and 20 regular hexagons. There are also several golf balls on the market that have a mixture of pentagonal and hexagonal dimples. Both situations are examples of convex polyhedra. Loosely speaking, a polyhedron is a geometric solid in three dimensions with flat faces and straight edges. In this case, the faces are pentagons and hexagons. For mathematicians, a natural question arises. Namely, what sorts of convex polyhedra can we build using only regular pentagons and regular hexagons? For example, is it possible to build a convex polyhedron using only regular pentagons? How about just hexagons? If we allow both, how many of each is possible? In this talk, we will explore these types of questions by utilizing Euler’s characteristic formula for polyhedra, which establishes a relationship between the number of vertices, edges, and faces of a polyhedron. [PDF of Flyer]

In the second half of FAMUS, we will interview the students that recently attended the 2016 Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics.

The mathematics of Boggle logic puzzles

Date: January 29, 2016

Speaker: Dana C. Ernst (NAU)

Abstract: Boggle (© Hasbro) is a popular word search game where players compete to find as many words as they can in a $4 \times 4$ grid of letters. On the other hand, a Boggle logic puzzle is the game of Boggle played in reverse. A list of words is given and you need to recreate the board. In this talk, we will discuss some of the mathematics behind Boggle logic puzzles. In particular, we will summarize some of the known results and highlight a few open problems. [PDF of Flyer] [Slides]

In the second half of FAMUS, I plan to discuss my path from hating mathematics as a child to falling in love with mathematics to eventually earning my PhD and becoming a professor of mathematics. I hope to share a bit about what I love about mathematics, as well as the joys and struggles of teaching.