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Members of the Department Attend JMM

Over winter break, several members of the department attended the Joint Mathematics Meeting in Baltimore, the largest annual gathering of mathematicians and statisticians in the world. Chris Hellmann ('16) and Brennan Langenbach ('16) presented a poster entitled "Symplectic Transformations as R-Lagrangian Subspaces"€ based on MAP research from the previous summer. David Brown ('14) also presented a poster entitled "Enumeration and Projection Dependence of 1-Singular Knots" from his summer research at James Madison University. Recent alumna Bridget Toomey ('13) gave a talk on "Novel Approaches for Evaluating Phases and Orientations of Polycrystalline Structures". 

Faculty members in attendance included Professor Marc Chamberland who gave a talk on "Averaging Structure in the 3x 1 Problem"€, Professor Emily Moore, Professor Tom Moore, and Professor Shonda Kuiper who presented a talk "Designing Simulated Experiments in the Introductory Statistics Course"€, along with being a co-author on two other talks, and presenting a poster "Playing games with a Purpose: A New Approach to Teaching and Learning Statistics€". 

Professors Marc Chamberland and Chris French also exhibited a piece in the juried mathematical art exhibition (picture above).

A Sense of Belonging

Sixteen Grinnell students — fourteen women and two men — joined two computer science professors, Janet Davis and Samuel A. Rebelsky, as well as more than 4,750 other attendees from 53 countries at the 2013 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC).

Programs like the trip to GHC, visiting alumni scholars, and encouragement on campus have allowed Grinnell to increase its percentage of women enrolled in computer science, a STEM field seeing dropping female enrollment in America.

Women in Technology

Hilary Mason ’00, who was not at this year's conference, attended her first GHC conference as a graduate student and later became a conference presenter. She says she’s felt “I’m in a room with my people” at other computer science conferences. “But Grace Hopper was the first time I was in a room with 1,000 computer science people who were women. It’s a powerful experience, more powerful than you’d expect.”

Mason, a leading data scientist, was faced with the challenges of creating a balanced team while working as the chief data scientist at bit.ly. Diversity in technology fields is important for development, she says, and the field has limited diversity in areas such as gender, race, age, and socioeconomic level.

She works with programs like the Anita Borg Institute (which hosts GHC) and Girls who Code to help encourage young women to enter the field. Mason, who has presented at the conference before, says it helps women to develop support relationships and young women to picture themselves in technology careers.

That’s important, says Davis, because many women are fairly isolated in their workplaces and academic institutions. “It was wonderful to find a safe place where women [can] talk candidly about both what they are proud of and what challenges they face.” She continues, “I took a group of four women to [GHC] two years ago. Since that trip, they have really become leaders in the department, and we’ve seen an uptick in the number of women majors as they have been taking on those leadership roles.”

The Excitement of Technology

Jennelle Nystrom ’14 decided to major in computer science after her first visit to the conference. She says, “At [GHC], I got to see all the exciting things that the technology field was doing, a side you don’t often see in your classes.”

“I think it is the best computing conference for undergraduates,” says Davis. “Computer science doesn’t really have one big conference. The field is just too broad. Computer science has a lot of smaller conferences splintered by sub-discipline.”

Because it doesn’t have a sub-discipline focus, Davis says, “GHC is the one computer science conference you can go to to learn the breadth of research as well as the breadth of work opportunity in the field.”

That scope attracts men to the conference as well, like Prashanna "Mani" Tiwaree ’14 and Evan Manuella ’16, who also attended the conference this year. “It's important to include men,” says Davis, “not only because GHC is a great conference for undergraduates exploring the field, but because most of the men I’ve talked to say Grace Hopper is a transformative experience. They get to experience being in the minority; they get a little bit more empathy with what that is like."

Training, Exploration, and Activities

The students had a chance to meet many leaders in the field. Nystrom, for example, reports she had dinner with the CTO of Twitter, who also attended a liberal arts college.

Dilan Ustek ’14 — one of three Grinnell students who worked as conference volunteers — was rewarded with the chance to translate for Tülin Akin, an award winner from Turkey.

Students also met with alumni in the field both during the conference and at a gathering coordinated by the alumni office.

Technology Jobs

Nystrom is one of the women who has taken a strong leadership role at Grinnell, says Davis. As a student worker in the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, Nystrom helped Grinnell’s attendees get ready for the conference’s career fair. She worked with them on résumés, career skills, and networking etiquette. The advance work has been paying off for the students with internships and contacts in business and graduate schools.

Mason credits her prominence in the technology community for helping her develop and manage a gender-balanced team as bit.ly’s chief scientist, but many companies rely on the job fair at GHC — one of the largest in the field — to identify and attract talented women.

Nystrom says that her first visit to the conference and her summer research experiences at Grinnell led to a summer internship at Microsoft. This year several students had interviews at the conference, were offered internships, and made contacts within the field.

In the end, Rebelsky says, students return excited and confident that they have a place in the field.

The students' participation was funded by the conference, the Wilson Program, Grinnell's Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant, and the College's student/faculty research fund.

Grace Hopper attendees
(left to right)

Seated: Dilan Ustek ’14, Lea Marolt-Sonnenschein ’15, Nediyana Daskalova ’14, Janet Davis, Christine Tran ’16

Standing: Lexy Greenwell ’15, Shen Zhang ’16, Samuel A. Rebelsky, Madeleine Hardt ’16, Mira Hall ’16, Marsha Fletcher ’15, Jennelle Nystrom ’14

Not pictured: Alexandra Greenberg ’16, Evan Manuella ’16, Tiffany Nguyen ’16, Kitt Nika ’16, Kim Spassaro ’14, Mani Tiwaree ’14


We are living in a Golden Age for astronomy, and Grinnell College offers its students a range of opportunities to experience the excitement of direct involvement in astronomical observation and investigation. The unusually sophisticated instrumentation at Grinnell's observatory supports activities ranging from casual visual observing to active astronomical research and allows students to do projects that are connected to topics of current interest, such as the expansion of the universe and the behavior of pulsars.

Comet ISON—Bang or Bust?

Comet ISON has the potential to be spectacular — if it survives its Thanksgiving encounter with the sun.

After Dec. 3, starwatchers can call the re-activated Grinnell College Observatory hotline, 641-269-4770, to learn about viewing sessions.  The hotline will be updated once the fate of ISON — which enthusiasts say may be “the comet of the century” — becomes clearer.

Grinnell physics professor Bob Cadmus explains that Comet ISON is a new visitor to the inner solar system and is currently very pristine and bright — but its future is uncertain. “The comet will pass near the sun for the first time on Thanksgiving,” Cadmus says, “and we will learn more about its behavior after the pass-by occurs.”

According to a NASA Web site, the sun’s proximity may cause the icy comet to degrade and become less visible, or disappear completely. But if Comet ISON survives its trip around the sun, there’s a good chance, according to NASA, that it will be incredibly bright and easily visible with the naked eye in the northern hemisphere. In early December, it would be seen in the morning, low on the horizon to the east-southeast. In late December and early January, it will be visible all night long.

If the comet’s behavior warrants it, Cadmus says, the Grinnell College Observatory will host December viewing sessions in the pre-dawn hours. Telescopes will not be required; the comet should be visible with the naked eye. Cadmus will be on hand to provide information about the comet and other sights in the night sky.

The Art of Mathematics


Although he only made his debut in mathematical art this past January, Marc Chamberland, professor of mathematics and statistics, has already had pieces accepted to two juried exhibitions: His works Inner Square and Borromean Five were shown at the Joint Mathematics Meeting (January, San Diego) and The Bridges Conference (July, Netherlands).

Part puzzle, part artistic exploration, Chamberland’s work merges mathematical lessons with aesthetics, history, and popular culture. For example, Borromean Five, he says, is a “knot-theory type of comparison” to the game rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock, popularized on the sitcom The Big Bang Theory.

Read more about Chamberland’s art and the ideas behind it in: “The Art of Mathematics,” The Grinnell Magazine, Fall 2013, page 10.

Observatory Open House


Open House: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2 Grant O. Gale Observatory

A globular cluster and the Ring Nebula will be the featured celestial objects at the Observatory open house Nov. 2.

Robert Cadmus, Breid-McFarland Professor of Science, professor of physics, and director of the observatory, will lead the free, public observation. If the weather is cloudy, the program will consist of computer imaging demonstrations and videotaped views through the telescope.

The Grant O. Gale Observatory is located on the north perimeter of the campus, north of 10th Ave. and adjacent to Les Duke Track.

For questions or to receive notification of future observatory open houses, contact Cadmus.

Grinnell Science Project

The Grinnell Science Project is committed to developing the talents of all students interested in science and mathematics, especially those from groups underrepresented in the sciences -- students of color, first-generation college students, and women in physics, mathematics and computer science.