Playing the Numbers: Math Prof Karl-Dieter Crisman’s Search for “Intelligible Nerdiness”
Karl-Dieter Crisman, associate professor of mathematics, recently published a review article in Books and Culture.
“If you’re a member of group that gets club oufits,” he writes, “it’s typical to personalize the shirts or jackets with a nickname or in-joke. My students often use versions of their names (e.g., “Jules” for Julie), but the names can be more cryptic: a swimmer I knew in high school used “Plecostomus.” When I was on the student council, I chose “E=MC2” for the back of my sweatshirt, sure that this was the clearest way to show my identification as a future scientist.
“To my chagrin, my choice came off as more puzzling than anything else. It’s one thing to be nerdy, but for your nerdiness to not even be intelligible … that’s the worst. I got so many questions that, finally, I just stopped wearing it. I had naively figured that most of my contemporaries would have at least seen Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence; what about the Cold War, hadn’t they heard of nuclear bombs? But this most famous equation was a mystery even to otherwise well-read friends.”
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Dr. Crisman’s interests lie largely in concrete applications of mathematics to analysis of election procedures; he is also interested in connections with music and the abstract world of invariants on hyperplane arrangements. He is passionate about open source software in mathematics, largely as a developer in the Sage project, and is currently a fellow of Gordon College’s Center for Faith and Inquiry exploring ways to bring the interplay between theology and the open source movement to a wider audience.
He coordinates the Gordon Math Forum, a student-oriented hour of problems, lectures, speakers on career options, and other topics.