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.”[1] 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.

KDC photoTo 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.