Talking about math to Congress

From MAA Focus:

If you think it’s hard to distill research results into a 15-minute conference presentation, try this: Choose a subject like matrix factorizations or recent progress on the twin prime conjecture. Figure out how to make a nonexpert audience—members of Congress, say—if not fully understand the chosen topic, at least appreciate its significance. Do this in a minute. The clock is ticking.

Jerry McNerney of California’s ninth congressional district has risen to such a challenge more than 10 times in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he has served since 2007. The only current member of the House or Senate to hold a doctorate in mathematics (University of New Mexico, 1981), McNerney has read into the congressional record one-minute expositions of such abstruse subjects as vector bundles, synesthesia, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope…

Boiling down complex material into a minute of talking is tricky, McNerney concedes, but he has been pleased with the results. As a member of the Public Face of Mathematics panel at the 2014 Joint Mathematics Meetings, McNerney told listeners that being coaxed into thinking about math has a positive effect on his congressional fellows.

“Instead of all the usual bickering that you get on the House floor, everyone smiles,” he reported. “They say, ‘This is really fun.’”


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