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Student math conference featured speakers from Boeing, Pixar

On February 27, 55 students, five guests and 20 faculty and staff gathered at Edmonds College to participate in the fourth annual Western Washington Community College Student Mathematics Conference.

In addition to Edmonds CC, participants came from Bellevue College, Big Bend Community College, Clark College, Green River Community College, Lower Columbia College, North Seattle Community College, Pierce College, Shoreline Community College, and Central Washington University.

Student speakers from Edmonds, Green River and Clark gave presentations about a variety of mathematical topics, including: Möbius strips and other topological curiosities, visualizing the imaginary roots of quadratic equations, properties of Pascal's triangle, the history of Fermat's Last Theorem, the importance of prime numbers in cryptography, digital data compression, using a computer simulation to analyze the 2D Ising model, and a mathematical derivation of the Stefan-Boltzmann law. The sessions also included a discussion about opportunities for pursuing mathematics beyond community college.

The guest speaker, mathematician Fritz Klein from The Boeing Co., discussed the types of problems that Boeing's Applied Mathematics Group tackles and how its mathematicians work together with Boeing's engineers. He also presented some fascinating examples of problems in geometry and optimization that arise in the design and production of airplanes and spacecraft.

Another guest speaker, computer scientist Per Christensen from Pixar (who recently received an Academy Award at the Scientific and Technical Oscar ceremonies), discussed the use of ray tracing in Pixar movies. Pixar's RenderMan team employs this technique, which involves solving geometric equations to find the intersection between a line and a surface, to create 2D and 3D images with realistic shadows and reflections.

Funding for the conference was provided by the Mathematical Association of America and the Edmonds College Foundation.

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Math at Edmonds CC