USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

The ‘Nifty Fifty (times 4)’, a program of Science Spark, presented by InfoComm International, are a group of 200 noted science and engineering professionals who will fan out across the Washington, D.C. area in the 2014-2015 school year to speak about their work and careers at various middle and high schools.

Meet Nifty Fifty Speaker Dr. Tim Chartier

Tim Chartier_2015 Nifty Fifty SpeakerAs a mathematician and researcher par excellence specializing in numerical linear algebra, Tim Chartier, Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Davidson College, is known for pushing the boundaries of mathematics and its application in innovative ways. He has worked, for example, with both Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories on the development and analysis of computational methods targeted to increase efficiency and robustness of numerical simulation on the labs’ supercomputers, which are among the fastest in the world.

However in recent years he has garnered an equally impressive reputation among students and the public for another talent: breaking down the complexity and fear of mathematics in unforgettable ways by demonstrating how math can be applied effectively in real-life situations.

These milestone demonstrations and explanations by Tim have included using mathematical principles and other data to shed practical light on numerous areas, including how to:

— create an algorithm to predict Academy Award winners each year;

— accurately determine the best basketball player of all time — Lebron James, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Michael Jordan;

— gain insight into the 4th dimension and other higher dimensional space realms depicted in the film, Sphereland;

— create a near-perfect NCAA March Madness Bracket in college basketball.

Needless to say, his expertise in applied math and sports data analytics has attracted the attention of the New York Times, CBS, USA Today and many other national media outlets. This also includes fielding mathematical questions for the Sports Science program on ESPN, and writing for the Science blog of the Huffington Post, plus authoring key books for the lay public on mathematics and its practical applications, such as his recent popular work, Math Bytes: Google Bombs, Chocolate-Covered Pi, and Other Cool Bits in Computing.

In addition, Tim’s passion for bringing the joys of math to the masses involves using his talents as a mime to explain complex math and science concepts to students and adults.

Says Tim: ¨For some, math may be something to ‘beware’ of — rather than be ‘aware’ of.¨ He is on a mission to change the public’s attitude toward the latter.

¨Mathematicians continue to expand the boundaries of what we know mathematically, and the field of math and its applications continue to grow,¨ he says. ¨For example, NBA [National Basketball Association] teams use mathematics to gain a competitive edge over their opponent. Will the better team with better mathematics win? It definitely helped the Oakland A’s baseball team in 2002 with the math that became known as Moneyball.¨

Citing another example of how math is applied to daily life, Tim says, ¨Every day, credit card numbers are encrypted to allow for secure online transactions. Developing methods of encryption that simply cannot be broken with a faster computer comes from mathematics.¨

Studying math, he emphasizes enables one to appreciate and possibly understand its applications. ¨Mathematics teaches a way of thinking,” Tim says.

Tim, a recipient of a national teaching award from the Mathematical Association of America, serves on the Editorial Board for Math Horizons, a mathematics magazine of the Mathematical Association of America and on the Advisory Board of YourMusicOn (YMO), a mobile music startup company.

He is also chairman of the Advisory Council for the Museum of Mathematics — the first museum of mathematics in the United States which opened in 2012, in addition to being the author of numerous articles published in peer-reviewed journals in mathematics, and co-author of the seminal book Numerical Methods: Design, Analysis, and Computer Implementation of Algorithms.

He received his Bachelor’s of Science degree in applied mathematics; his Master’s degree in computational mathematics from Western Michigan University, and his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He held a VIGRE postdoctoral position at the University of Washington, before arriving at Davidson College in 2003.

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