Your brain on math

By David Raney | Emory Quadrangle | March 29, 2013

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If you're like many people, when someone says "math" you think "problem." A head-scratching homework assignment maybe, or an equation on a whiteboard (or blackboard, depending on your age). Possibly a problem with a required course, if mathematics didn't happen to be your forte.

Mathematicians think about such things a little differently. And the problems they think about might surprise you.

Someone once asked the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead at a dinner party what he did for a living, then responded "Oh, but we're all philosophers, aren't we?" To which Whitehead is supposed to have replied, "Yes, but some of us spend all day at it." Mathematicians—those who spend all day at it—are certainly familiar with equations, and the ones at Emory are also accomplished teachers. But they turn their talents to a wider world than whiteboards.

Take Michele Benzi, for example. As Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, his research areas sound abstract enough: numerical linear algebra, complex networks, Markov chains. But dig deeper. In studying mathematical models of networks, his work ranges as far afield as terrorists and Facebook.

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