Chocolate and String Theory Featured in NS&M Colloquium Series

The most recent two lectures for the Natural Science and Mathematics Colloquium series focused on the mathematics behind a chocolate-eating game and the properties of the universe.

The first of the two math-oriented seminars began on September 23 with a discussion of Chomp, a math game based on the rules of combinatorial theory.  Presented by Professor Alex Meadows, the lecture focused on explaining the many forms of the game and how the size of the playing board can affect the outcome by altering each player’s chance of winning or losing.

In the game of Chomp, a board is set up to contain a pre-set number of squares in a set number of rows(a “chocolate bar”), which can be removed from each player (“chomped”) during his turn by removing all squares to the right of and below the removed square.  The player to take the final corner square is declared the loser, making this game a study of the outcomes of each move made by each player.

In his presentation, Dr. Meadows explained the general principles of Chomp before covering the variety of possible game boards, from 3 x 3-block grids to the more difficult 2 x infinity Chomp.

“In any game of Chomp, every position is either an n-position or p-position,” Meadows explained.  While the p-position refers to a winning position for the player taking that square, the n-position refers to a position that creates a winning chance for the player about to move.

After covering the various forms of Chomp, Meadows discussed the history of the game and the current research in the field of combinatorial game theory, ending with a discussion of the importance of mathematics to the world today.

“Math is power,” concluded Meadows.  “Demand it.”

On Sept. 30, Dr. Mario Livio, senior astrophysicist of the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, presented a seminar titled Is God a Mathematician? Dr. Livio focused on the history of mathematical theory and the many attempts of mathematicians such as Lord William Kelvin, John Conway, and Archimedes to explain the universe through its laws.

After a detailed account of string theory, the currently accepted attempt to explain the forces of nature, Livio discussed how different mathematicians viewed mathematics as either a discovery of how things exist in the universe or an invention by man to explain those same properties.  Following further discussion of Euclidean geometry, axioms of logic, and the paradoxes that violate such logic, Livio concluded that mathematics is inevitably a mixture of the two, “a complicated combination of discovery and invention.”  Livio ended the presentation with a discussion of paradoxes that violate logical systems and a quote from Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy.

The Natural Science and Mathematics Colloquium series began on Thursday, September 3, with the subject of supernovas, and has since covered a wide range of topics each week, from the harvesting of the African dwarf crocodile in West and Central Africa to the binding site of Muscleblind, correlated with the occurrence of Myotonic Dystrophy.  The next lecture in the series, The Challenges of Burn Injury, will be presented on October 7 by Dr. Robert Maile from the University of North Carolina.

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