My courses. I teach most of the undergraduate spectrum of math courses to students who run the gamut from the terrified (as a result of painful experiences, often in elementary school) to those who love the material, and absorb it like a Shamwow sucking up spilt milk. Along the way, after the preliminary material, and once I’ve sworn them to secrecy, we usually cover Secrets of the Universe and Eternal Truths, which is always the best part of the course. In my cheerfully biased view, mathematics is the Queen of the Sciences, the Language of Nature, and the best way to hone one’s intellect to interpret the sensory data the world imposes on our brains.
What keeps me excited about teaching. The enthusiasm of my students, the intriguing things my colleagues are working on, and the gleaning of insights that always comes with thinking—and rethinking—course material and lessons. It’s a wonderful luxury these days to be able to have the time to read, think, write and give (hopefully) inspiring lectures to students. I have the greatest job on earth, and I’m aware of it!
Why I chose Wheaton. As as student, I went to a small liberal arts school, and when I became a professor, I wanted to create that same intimate classroom experience that meant so much to me. Also, before coming to Wheaton, I had a visiting position at the University of Texas at Austin. After spending time there, I wanted to work at a place where I had the chance to meet and collaborate with people outside of my department. The Connections piece of the Wheaton Curriculum created a marvelous playground for me and like-minded people in other disciplines.
My research focus. These days, I’m working with a philosopher at Harvard on interpreting several of Zeno’s paradoxes of motion. Perhaps Zeno’s most famous paradox is “Achilles and the Tortoise.” The idea is that if they are racing, and the Tortoise has a head start on Achilles, then Achilles can never catch up to the Tortoise. Why? Because first Achilles has to run to where the Tortoise is, but during that time, the Tortoise will move towards the finish line. Achilles then must run to where the Tortoise has moved, but while he’s doing that, the Tortoise moves again. And so on, and so on. Now, obviously in the real world, Achilles will catch the Tortoise pretty quickly, but setting that aside, and trying to explain exactly how Zeno is wrong has brought many philosophers and mathematicians to their knees—or at least desperately fending off attacks from critics who are able to make a mockery of their ideas. (I fully expect that when I publish my ideas, I also will be eviscerated in print by other philosophers and mathematicians.)
My academic claim to fame. I suppose that actually it’s my honorably-mentioned book aimed at liberal artists and humanists, The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges’ Library of Babel.