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To Infinity and Beyond – A Mathematical Adventure

Posted by on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 in Academics, College Life, Freshman Life, Student Life.

Last week was one of the unfortunate midterm weeks during which every professor, out of a desire to “not schedule your tests during other midterms,” schedules tests for the same days. After this hellish experience, which was coupled with a rather physically strenuous weekend, I decided to unwind by attending one of the coolest events on campus. Yesterday evening, I went to one of the Undergraduate Math Seminars, a weekly one-hour dork session for anyone interested in a variety of topics discussed by faculty members and grad students. This week’s topic was the concept of infinity, presented by grad student Tara Davis.

I see you down there, front-row man.
Captivated and spellbound students wait for the lecture to begin.

The audience numbered somewhere between 20 and 30 undergrads, with a few fellow grad students sprinkled in. The motivations for attending ranged from getting extra credit in math classes to trying to answer every question before the rest of the audience (you know who you are, front-row man.), to taking advantage of the free pizza and interesting diversion from homework. Davis began by asking for audience input on words that could describe infinity, then briefly toured the concept of “infinity” in ancient art and philosophy before diving into some conceptual problems. We looked at Zeno’s paradox, problems dealing with recursive series, and the issues that arise when trying to prove theorems for all n’s to infinity. Davis closed her presentation by discussing the different “sizes” of infinity (on a number line of infinities) and Georg Cantor’s Continuum Hypothesis, which, as two renowned mathematicians showed, can neither be proven nor disproved.

While the excitement of attending a math seminar is not for everyone (some may prefer more low-key events), I certainly had a good time and plan on attending the lectures for the rest of the semester. If Vanderbilt students are interested, Tuesdays from 7 to 8 in Stevenson 1206!

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