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Professor Ken Millett featured speaker at Pi Mu Epsilon Conference

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April 5, 2012

The 34th annual Pi Mu Epsilon Conference will be held Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14, at Peter Engel Science Center, Saint John's University. 

Pi Mu Epsilon is a national mathematics honor society that promotes scholarly activity in mathematics among academic institutions and recognizes students' mathematical achievements.

Approximately 130 students and faculty from surrounding liberal arts colleges and state universities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota are expected to attend the conference, which is free and open to the public. 

Ken Millett, professor of mathematics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, will be the featured speaker and give two talks. 

Part one of Millett's speech titled "The Nature of Knotting" will be at 8 p.m. Friday in Pellegrene Auditorium. All of us have experience with knots - in our hair, garden hoses, cords for vacuum cleaners and computers - but what do we really know about them? In this talk, Millett will explore some of their manifestations in the natural sciences that have led to the development of mathematical ways to analyze them. He will investigate some basic questions concerning "physical knots," both conceptually as well as trying to get a real sense of their properties and importance in nature.

The second part of Millett's presentation titled "Leonardo's Knots" is at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Pellegrene Auditorium. Moving from physical to artistic knots, this talk will describe the presence of knotting in the work of Leonardo da Vinci. Millett will look at some of his paintings and try to analyze some of his graphic work during his time in Milan, Italy, in the late 15th century. Part history, part geometry and part topology, this talk will explore some new facets of Leonardo's understanding of form and structure. He will consider the mathematical foundations of the forms visible in this body of work, try to understand how and why these forms were constructed in this specific manner, and speculate on the meaning that the forms encode.

Millett received a bachelor's degree in science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a master's and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin- Madison. Following lecturer appointments at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and MIT, he joined the faculty of the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1969. Since then he has been a visiting professor at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques, Princeton University, Occidental College, UCLA, Mathematical Sciences Research Institute and several French research institutes and universities, most recently the Universite de Provence in Marseilles and at the LOMI in St. Petersburg, Russia.

He has published over 50 scientific papers and edited four research volumes concerned with aspects of geometric topology, knot theory and, their applications to mathematics, computer science, physics, chemistry and molecular biology. He has also written articles on mathematics education and educational reform as well as developing materials to increase public understanding and support for the renewal and reform of mathematics teaching and assessment.

Seventeen college students will present undergraduate research at the conference at 7 p.m. April 13, and 9 a.m. April 14, in classrooms throughout Peter Engel Science Center.  Presenting their research from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University are:

  • CSB junior Marie Meyer (mathematics major, Clive, Iowa), "Graph Isomorphisms in Discrete Morse Theory"
  • CSB junior Whitney Radil (mathematics major, Alexandria, Minn.), "Periods of Periodic Orbits for Maps on Graphs Homotopic to the Constant Map"
  • SJU junior Xiao Wang (mathematics and computer science double major, Shanghai, China), "Fair Division in Political Redistricting"