OU Math Movie Night: A Beautiful Mind

I am excited to announce the first OU Math Movie Night.  This Thursday, we will be showing the critically acclaimed “A Beautiful Mind” in honor of John Nash who passed away earlier this year.  This event is open to everyone, so invite your friends to come watch this movie.  Afterwards we will have an informal discussion of game theory.  Here are the details:

When: Thursday, October 22, 5:30-8:00pm

Where: PHSC 1105

What: Movie, Food, and Math!OUMathMovieNight_Oct_22


Happy Belated Birthday!

We are a bit late to the party, but this week was the birthday of one of the most famous Oklahomans to ever live, Martin Gardner.  He was born in Tulsa on October 21, 1914 and spent the last years of his life right here in Norman!  Sadly he passed away in 2010.

But gladly people are carrying on the Gardner traditions of math, magic, and a healthy sense of curiosity and skepticism in all things.  Every year around his birthday there are Gatherings 4 Gardner all around the world.

In the Internet World, you can find a series of posts about Gardnerian topics on the NY Times Numberplay blog.  For example, they share Mr. Gardner’s favorite puzzle of all times, “The Monkey and the Coconuts”:

Five men and a monkey were shipwrecked on a desert island, and they spent the first day gathering coconuts for food. Piled them all up together and then went to sleep for the night.

But when they were all asleep one man woke up, and he thought there might be a row about dividing the coconuts in the morning, so he decided to take his share. So he divided the coconuts into five piles. He had one coconut left over, and gave it to the monkey, and he hid his pile and put the rest back together.

By and by, the next man woke up and did the same thing. And he had one left over and he gave it to the monkey. And all five of the men did the same thing, one after the other; each one taking the fifth of the coconuts in the pile when he woke up, and each one having one left over for the monkey. And in the morning they divided what coconuts were left, and they came out in five equal shares. Of course each one must have known that there were coconuts missing; but each one was guilty as the others, so they didn’t say anything. How many coconuts were there in the beginning?

Mathematician and Friend of Gardner, Colm Mulcahy, has an excellent essay about Martin Gardner on his Huffington Post blog.  Dr. Mulcahy is famous for his card tricks — especially ones based on math!  Here’s one by Dr. Mulcahy called “The Ice Cream Trick” for you to puzzle over:

And last, but not least, Mr. Gardner’s autobiography was just released last month. We look forward to reading it!

A Passel of Putnam Problem People!

This year as every year Drs. Albert and Ozaydin are organizing the OU Putnam Problem Solving Group. It will meet on

Mondays at 5 pm in PHSC 1025 from now until the Putnam Exam.

The Putnam Exam is a famous exam which is held on the first Saturday in December around the country (and, indeed!, around the world).  You can win great prizes (like a scholarship to Harvard!).  And we’ll bet that if you get the top score on the Putnam Exam, the OU Math Department will give you full scholarship to OU!

It was founded in 1927 by Elizabeth Lowell Putnam in honor of her husband William Lowell Putnam.

William Lowell Putnam and professional Teddy Rosevelt impersonator

William Lowell Putnam and professional Teddy Roosevelt impersonator.

We should mention that the exam has 12 questions, each graded out of 10 points, for a total of 120 points.  If you score any points at all, it puts you in the top half of the exam takers! So probably you shouldn’t depend on your Putnam prize money for next year’s tuition :-).


Whether or not you want to take the exam itself, stop by the OU Putnam Problem solving group to have fun and work on interesting problems like this one:

Players 1, 2, 3, …, n are seated around a table and each has a single penny. Player 1 passes a penny to Player 2, who then passes two pennies to Player 3. Player 3 then passes one penny to Player 4, who passes two pennies to Player 5, and so on, players alternately passing one penny or two to the next player who still has some pennies. A player who runs out of pennies drops out of the game and leaves the table. Find an infinite set of numbers n for which some player ends up with all n pennies.

— From the Putnam Exam webpage

Game On!

OU Star Party!


We just learned that every Wednesday during the semester the OU Physics and Astronomy department hosts a space watching party!  It’s entirely free and no doubt great fun!  These days they start at 7:30 in the evening and you can find them on the roof of the observatory, which is located on the East side of Asp Avenue just South of Lindsey Avenue. Look for the building with the white dome on top.  Go here to find out this week’s schedule.

Here’s a cool pic from a Star Party during the Spring semester:


See you there!

Math Club at the Movies


Wednesday, October 2nd in Old Science Hall Room 324 at 5pm

the OU Math Club will be hosting a movie night.  Note the unusual location!  It will be in the OU Film and Media Studies Department’s beautiful student lounge.  Fortunately it’s easy to find since Old Science Hall is right next to PHSC on the SW corner of the north oval.  Click here to see it on Google Maps.

Based on student requests, we’re showing Moneyball. Presumably it’s because of all the sabermetrics and not because of all the screen time of a certain Okie.

It was nominated for six Academy Awards and won none of them (although it did win the coveted 2nd place award for best adapted screenplay by the Central Ohio Film Critics Association:-)).  Check out the preview:

Movie Night with the MGSA!

The Math Grad Student Association (MGSA) at OU is hosting a Movie Night this

Monday, September 23rd at 6:30 pm in Robertson Hall Room 311.

The third floor of Robertson Hall is the brand spankin’ new Graduate Student Life Center.  It’s meant to be a hangout place for OU grad students, but undergrads are invited to the Movie Night, too!

They’ll be watching Now You See Me. Here’s the trailer:

Counting Points with Dr. Ozaydin

On Monday evenings is the Graduate Student Seminar (aka the Pizza Seminar).  It is the grad student version of the Math Club.  There are talks and pizza, with the only difference being that the talks are a little more advanced.  But upper level undergrads are always welcome to attend!  It’s this

Monday, September 16th at 5:30 pm in PHSC 1105.

This week’s is a particularly good one.  Dr. Ozaydin will be talking about how to count points inside polygons and polyhedra.  It’s an elementary question with a beautiful answer.  Stop on by!

Count the points!

Count the points!

The general topic is to compute the number of points with integer coordinates in a convex rational polytope (i.e. the convex hull of finitely many points with rational coordinates in a Euclidean space). This is Ehrhart Theory, an area rich with beautiful qualitative results (of Ehrhart, MacDonald, Stanley, Brion, Lawrence, Berline-Vergne and others). However, explicit computable formulas are very rare.

A specific problem is to find a computable formula for the generating function f(n):= the no. of ways of paying n using only coins of denominations a, b and c (assuming a, b, c are relatively prime). A theorem of Popoviciu gives a good answer for two (relatively prime) denominations (a and b), but no similar formula is known even for three denominations. (There are algorithms that compute f(n) in polynomial time, due to Barvinok and others, but no explicit computable formula.)

The usual proofs of Popoviciu’s theorem uses the Discrete Fourier Transform, instead I’ll present a short elementary geometric proof. Then I hope to discuss what is known in higher dimensions and where the difficulties lie.

— Dr. Ozaydin’s abstract