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PLU Seniors Present Research at World’s Largest Math Conference

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James Van Alstine '15 and Hailey Olafson '15 presented their math research at a prestigious national conference in Texas.

Image: James Van Alstine ’15 and Hailey Olafson ’15 presented their math research at a prestigious national conference in Texas.

February 23, 2015
By Taylor Lunka ’15
PLU Marketing & Communications

TACOMA, Wash. (Feb. 23, 2015)—Over J-Term, Pacific Lutheran University seniors Hailey Olafson and James Van Alstine presented their mathematics research at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Antonio, Texas.

JMM, put on by the Mathematical Association of America and the American Mathematical Society, is the largest mathematics meeting in the world.

The research Olafson and Van Alstine presented, on changing the base of numbers, was conducted over the summer with PLU Assistant Professor of Mathematics Tom Edgar.

Edgar says that numbers we know are “usually easy” to understand because the base is 10: We count in 1000s, 100s, 10s and 1s.

For their research, though, the trio started to replace the power of 10 with powers of fractions, such as three-halves squared.

The result is that not every number produced is a counting number.

“It’s a weird, unique subject in math,” Van Alstine said.

The team then researched a way to prove their results and ultimately produced a tree to show how these numbers are calculated.

“Every time you answer one problem, another problem starts to poke in,” said Edgar. “This should inspire future projects—for students at PLU or other institutions.”

Olafson said that working on this research project pushed her intellectually.

“I really liked how much it challenged everything I know about everything,” Olafson said of the process. “It was such an intellectual stretch to think about these things that only like two people had published papers on before. It was a hard transition going back to normal undergrad classes after studying something so advanced.”

Now the three researches are working to get their research published in a mathematics journal. Olafson and Van Alstine both plan to pursue master’s degrees after graduating from PLU in May.

Thanks to funds from PLU’s Division of Natural Sciences, both students received awards to travel to present their research in a poster session in San Antonio.

This year, 276 posters were presented from students across the country.  Each poster team is composed of two to four students.

The Joint Mathematics Meetings is a conference of nearly 10,000 attendees. Every year the meetings take place at a different location in the United States. Next year, the meetings will be held in Seattle. To learn more, visit http://jointmathematicsmeetings.org/jmm.