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Gathering in honor of recreational mathematician

By Alexander Armani-Munn
On November 6, 2011

  • Diego Alcala, a senior physics major, works on a Rubik’s Cube during the “Gathering for Gardner” celebration Friday at the Univeristy Center. Spencer Duncan

Members of the UNC Math Club, the Department of Mathematical Sciences, students and faculty gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of the late mathematician Martin Gardner during a nationwide acknowledgement of his work Friday.

Gardner, who died in May, 2010, is best known for his work in recreational mathematics, which encompasses puzzles and games that require reasoning.

In his lifetime, Gardner published more than 70 books and wrote columns for The Scientific American and The Skeptical Inquirer.

Gardner, who studied philosophy at the University of Chicago, never took a mathematics course beyond high school.

In 1998, Gardner was quoted saying he is fortunate for getting paid to play all the time, reflecting his recreational approach to mathematics and reasoning.

Gathering for Gardner, which was the name of the celebration at the University of Northern Colorado, is a non-profit corporation working to honor the achievements of Gardner by promoting new and accessible ideas in recreational mathematics, magic, puzzles and philosophy.

The organization held the first Gathering for Gardner conference in January 1993 and has continued biannually ever since.

For many people, the mathematics field is an unnerving expanse of numbers and symbols represented by confusing equations and complex formulas, but it does not have to be.

To some students, math is not an intimidating realm of numbers, letters and symbols.

"Math is wide-ranging, and it doesn't have to be hard," said Jessica Trujillo, a junior math major.

Friday night's event included a presentation by mathematician and author Alex Kasman, a magic show and several tables highlighting puzzles and brainteasers Gardner made popular.

Kasman is the author of "Glimpses of Soliton Theory: The Algebra and Geometry of Nonlinear PDEs," a textbook used by the UNC Department of  Mathematical Sciences.

During his presentation, Kasman discussed the textbook and how students could use it in their studies.

Kasman also spoke about his book, "Reality Conditions: Short Mathematical Fiction," a collection of mathematical-themed short stories.

Some of the activities featured at the event included Soma cubes, commonly known as Rubik's Cubes, card games and Penrose puzzles.

People young and old attended the event, which further supports the notion that mathematics can appeal to all.

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