Monday, April 12, 2010

Make it count: April is National Math Awareness Month!

The American Mathematical Society (AMS) in Providence is marking National Math Awareness Month with a RI Math Film Fest. Tonight, Rhode Island PBS starts a companion television festival, with films and documentaries that feature math and mathematicians. Remarkable? They certainly are! Click here for reviews by the AMS of theatrical films and documentaries. I was impressed by all the "Math in the Media"!

At 9 PM on Monday, April 12, we present NOVA: Hunting the Hidden Dimension. Here's the summary from the NOVA site:
For centuries, fractal-like irregular shapes were considered beyond the boundaries of mathematical understanding. Now, mathematicians have finally begun mapping this uncharted territory. Their remarkable findings are deepening our understanding of nature and stimulating a new wave of scientific, medical, and artistic innovation stretching from the ecology of the rain forest to fashion design. The documentary highlights a host of filmmakers, fashion designers, physicians, and researchers who are using fractal geometry to innovate and inspire.

Produced and directed by Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning filmmakers Michael Schwarz and Bill Jersey, the documentary weaves cutting-edge research from the front lines of science into a compelling mathematical detective story. The film introduces a number of distinguished individuals who have used fractal geometry to transform their fields, like Loren Carpenter, who created the first completely computer-generated sequence in a movie.

In the late 1970s, Carpenter stumbled across the work of a little-known mathematician, Benoit Mandelbrot, who coined the word "fractal," from the Latin word fractus, meaning irregular or broken up. Based on Mandelbrot's mathematical descriptions of fractals in nature, Carpenter was able to create detailed computer simulations of organic forms in a way that had never before been possible. The groundbreaking computer-generated sequence Carpenter produced in 1980 for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan marked a milestone in movie history, and owed its creation to fractal geometry.

It took a maverick with a hard-won aversion to authority to stand up to the conventional wisdom that nature stood outside the bounds of mathematics. Through interviews and personal artifacts, Mandelbrot shares the story of his struggle to survive as a Jewish teenager in Nazi-occupied France, his journey to America, and his lifelong fascination with a corps of European mathematicians whose explorations of the so-called "mathematical monsters" laid the groundwork for his own discoveries.

Filmmaker Bill Jersey believes Mandelbrot's approach to fractals might ultimately become as significant as the cracking of the genetic code. "As fractals continue to revolutionize the way scientists develop theories and conduct research, the inevitable results will be innovations that dramatically change health care, environmental policy, design, and technology," Jersey says.


On Wednesday, April 14 at 10 PM, we present Gearing Up, a one-hour documentary produced by KETC in St. Louis and Story House Productions in Washington, D.C. Gearing Up chronicles behind-the-scenes drama and excitement leading up to the 2008 FIRST Robotics National Competition. Teams receive identical robot kits with no instructions and have just six weeks to build a robot capable of performing specific tasks.

The documentary follows four teams through their regional competitions: "Miss Daisy" is a seasoned team from Ambler, Pennsylvania; "RoboDoves" is a small, all-girl rookie team from Baltimore, Maryland; "Rambotics" is a team of teenagers incarcerated at the Ridge View Academy correctional facility for boys in Watkins, Colorado; and "Ratchet Rockers" is a group of suburban kids from Wentzville, Missouri, near St. Louis. All of the young people and their mentors demonstrate the ingenuity, determination and teamwork required to compete in FIRST Robotics – “the varsity sport of the mind.”


On Thursday, April 15, prepare to be blown away by the well-calculated genius and talent.

At 8 PM, Hard Problems: The Road to the World's Toughest Math Contest is a feature documentary about the extraordinarily gifted students who represented the United States in 2006 at the world's toughest math competition—the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). It is the story of six American high school students who competed with 500 others from 90 countries in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The film shows the dedication and perseverance of these remarkably talented students, the rigorous preparation they undertake, their individuality, and the joy they get out of solving challenging problems. Above all, it captures the spirit of math competitions at the highest level.
Although American students on the whole rank well behind many countries in mathematics, American math Olympiad teams regularly finish among the top teams. While aiming to inspire and entertain, Hard Problems provides an insightful and thoughtful look at the process that produces successful teams, and ultimately, great mathematicians of the future.

Hard Problems takes a close look at exceptional students who make it to the highest levels of high school math, asking teachers, parents, siblings, the students themselves to shed light on what produces mathematical genius and how to nurture it. As we get to know them, the students in Hard Problems shatter many stereotypes and clichés about the mathematically gifted.

At 9 PM, it's Independent Lens Between the Folds. The award-winning documentary chronicles the stories of ten fine artists and intrepid theoretical scientists who have abandoned careers and scoffed at hard-earned graduate degrees – all to forge unconventional lives as modern-day paperfolders.

As they converge on the unlikely medium of origami, these artists and scientists reinterpret the world in paper, and bring forth a bold mix of sensibilities towards art, expressiveness, creativity, and meaning. And, together, these offbeat and provocative minds demonstrate the innumerable ways that art and science come to bear on the struggle to understand and honor the world around them.

At 10 PM, It All Adds Up profiles the teachers and students of Wayne State University’s "Math Corps," a groundbreaking organization that partners struggling middle and high-school students from Detroit’s public schools with collegians, who help teach vital math and life skills the kids need to succeed. After 16 years, the program’s results speak volumes: more than 90 percent of Math Corps students graduate from high school, and more than 80 percent attend college.

Produced by Academy Award-winning director Sue Marx, It All Adds Up features engaging and heart-warming interviews with alumni and current campers who testify to the life-changing impact of the Math Corps.

"Math Night" wraps up at 10:30PM when The Innovators: Designing the Future examines the power of innovation to transform lives by spotlighting exciting new breakthroughs in science and technology. The program, hosted by author and Emmy-winning executive producer Helene Lerner, introduces three visionary engineers tackling the challenges of modern American life — from using robots to study the effects of global warming, to employing nanotechnology in the treatment of cancer, to designing cutting-edge consumer products.  

The Innovators: Designing the Future also explores why the United States produces fewer scientists and engineers than other industrialized nations, and profiles a high school program striving to make math and science "cool" again.


This weekend, the American Mathematical Society is sponsoring these community screenings at the Providence Public Library Auditorium, 3rd floor, 150 Empire Street, Providence:

Stand and Deliver (PG), based on the story of real-life math teacher Jaime Escalante (who passed away on March 30, 2010), who turned gang members and kids with no hope into successful calculus students (Saturday, April 17 at 1:00 pm); A Beautiful Mind, the Oscar®-winning bio-pic of John Nash, a math prodigy able to solve math problems that baffled the greatest of minds, and how he overcame years of suffering through schizophrenia to win the Nobel Prize (Sunday, April 18 at 1:30 pm) and Good Will Hunting (R), about charismatic, rebellious and brilliant Will Hunting, who solves a math problem, and along the way tries to solve his personal problems (Sunday, April 18 at 2:55 pm).