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Tuesday, May 07, 2019

A course that showcases the prevalence, and power, of math | Science & Technology - Penn: Office of University Communications

The Mathematics in the Media course helps students understand how to use fundamental mathematical approaches to solve real-world problems in a data-driven world, explains Jerry Kazdan is a professor in the Department of Mathematics in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.

Photo: iStock

Love it or loathe it, math is everywhere. From the algorithms behind shopping recommendations to the encryption that keeps data safe online, the world is driven by numbers and data. And while knowledge of mathematics can help people understand this complex world, many Americans are fearful of the subject. 

This spring, the Mathematics in the Media course, taught by Jerry Kazdan, provided students with insights on how mathematics can be applied and used in everyday life. By working through examples of complicated real-world problems, students from various academic backgrounds, including math majors and minors, business students, and engineers, were able to see how math could be used to answer some of the world’s most pressing questions.

Kazdan, who has taught a number of iterations of this course since 2000, structures the class by keeping an eye on what’s happening in the news. He then asks his students questions that they “will care about the answer to” and provides them with a background of fundamental mathematics they need to approach and solve the problem. 

“This course isn’t designed to build a standard machinery of mathematics,” says Kazdan...

Other topics covered include modeling epidemics, data mining, and encryption. Junior Sarah Baumgarten, a logic, information, and computation major from Roslyn, New York, says she enjoyed learning about modelling how diseases spread, a relevant topic due to recent outbreaks covered in news reports. “It’s refreshing to do something with a basis in the world,” says Baumgarten. “It’s given me an awareness of how to apply what seems theoretical, to look at what’s happening in the world, and to see how things fit together.”

Source: Penn: Office of University Communications