All about the numbers ...

Film subject John Nash to speak at algebra day in West Virginia

Film subject John Nash to speak at algebra day in West Virginia

May 04, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - If ever there were a person to sell to young people the idea of pursuing math-related research, it would be John F. Nash Jr., a Nobel Prize winner.

Many know of Nash through the 2001 film about his life, "A Beautiful Mind." The film chronicled Nash's bout with mental illness and his groundbreaking research. Russell Crowe played Nash in the film.

Nash will be the featured speaker at the East Coast Computer Algebra Day, held Saturday, May 10, at Shepherd University.

Number crunchers from across the East Coast will converge at the National Conservation Training Center on Saturday to talk math and discuss why more mathematicians should let computers do the heavy crunching.

The yearly conference serves as an incubator for computer algebra-related research and draws top-notch math whizzes from institutions all over the East Coast.


The free conference is held at a different place each year and is open to the general public. Shepherd University is hosting the event at NCTC.

There is no deadline to register.

Organizers expect Nash to attract a wider group of attendees, beyond the 150 or so researchers, professors and other math die-hards who typically attend.

"We want to inspire young people to pursue a degree in math," said Reza Mirdamadi, chair of Shepherd University's department of computer science, mathematics and engineering.

Mirdamadi said Shepherd's math department is using the conference as an opportunity to court would-be math, computer science and engineering majors.

During the conference, Shepherd students will be giving poster presentations on how computer-algebra systems are used, said organizer Suda Kunyosying, a longtime math professor with Shepherd's department of computer science, mathematics and engineering.

Nash, 79, was born in Bluefield, W.Va., a small Appalachian town near West Virginia's southernmost tip.

"People've seen the movie, but they don't relate the movie to John Nash the person," Mirdamadi said.

In the math world, Nash's research laid the foundation for the economic concept of game theory. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1994 for his findings.

"We're lucky for him to say yes (to the invitation)," Kunyosying said. "We did not think he would come."

Kunyosying said she hopes math teachers will use the conference as an opportunity to use computers as a way to teach math.

"It allows students to think outside the box," she said.

She gave the example of programming computers to detect numerical patterns.

"Say you're given a series - 1, 2, 4, 8 - what would the next number be?" Kunyosying asked. "16."

That's an easy one. Computer algebra comes into play when dealing with more complicated sets of numbers, she said.

For years, mathematicians have used computer programs to confirm groundbreaking theories. Kunyosying mentioned the first case, in which computer algebra proved the Four-Color Theorem was true.

The Four-Color Theorem holds that you only need four hues to color any map - or any flat image, such as a poster, broken into elements or regions - without giving regions with the same boundary the same color.

It sounds like a simple puzzle to solve, Kunyosying said, but for more than 100 years after the theorem was proposed in the 1850s, mathematicians from all over the world had been trying to prove - by hand - that the theorem was true.

It wasn't until the 1970s that researchers from the University of Illinois created a computer program that put conjecture to rest, proving once and for all that the theorem was true, Kunyosying said.

Letting computers do the grunt work - which could amount to pages of handwritten work - students are better able to focus on mathematical concepts and perhaps apply new concepts to other problems.

The computer doesn't do everything for the student, Kunyosying said.

"If you put in garbage, it will give you garbage back," she said. "You have to know what you are doing."

Think of computer algebra as a quality-control measure for mathematicians.

If you go ...

WHAT: East Coast Algebra Day, featuring guest speaker Nobel Prize winner John F. Nash Jr. Other invited speakers are Erich Kaltofen of North Carolina State University, Y.V. Ramana Reddy of West Virginia University, and Paul S. Wang of Kent State University.

WHEN: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 10

WHERE: National Conservation Training Center, 698 Conservation Way, Shepherdstown, W.Va.

COST: Free

MORE: Register online at

Preconference workshop for adults

There will be a free workshop on the Web-based Mathematical Education program Friday, May 9, for those who teach grades kindergarten through 12. WME is a modern system distributed on the Web for math education. Participants will receive a certificate for completing the tutorial. The workshop is free. 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, May 9. Shepherd University's Snyder Hall, room 27. To register, contact Professor Weidong Liao at or call 304-876-5031.

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