Department of Mathematics

Address: Mathematics 253-37 | Caltech | Pasadena, CA 91125
Telephone: (626) 395-4335 | Fax: (626) 585-1728

The 15th Annual Charles R. DePrima Memorial
Undergraduate Mathematics Lecture

Tuesday, February 7, 2006
4:15 p.m.  151 Sloan


William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Mathematics
Yale University


Birthdays, Curses and Primes

Abstract:  Many people have been surprised to learn that, in a group of only 23 people, the odds are better than even that two people will have the same birthday. However, this fact is usually treated as an isolated curiosity. In fact, the mathematics behind the calculation of birthday coincidences can illuminate many aspects of our lives. It impinges on our ideas about social justice and equality. It can help us understand the rise of legends about curses, and the blessings of winning lotteries. The same mathematics can also tell us about tossing coins and the distribution of prime numbers. This talk will explore a variety of phenomena related to the mathematics of the birthday coincidence surprise.


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Roger Howe is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Mathematics at Yale University. Dr. Howe holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard University and received his doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 1969. His main research interests are in group representation theory, harmonic analysis, automorphic forms and invariant theory. Some fundamental directions in the representation theory of Lie groups and automorphic forms, such as the dual reductive pairs, are due to him. He has participated in several national initiatives aimed at improving the teaching of mathematics. In 1998 he served as chair of the American Mathematical Society's Consultative Committee involved in a revision of national mathematics standards, and he served as chair of the AMS Committee on Education from 2001 to 2004. For many years was on the board of directors of the Connecticut Academy for Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology. In addition, he served on the National Research Council's Study Committee on Mathematics Learning. He is the currently chair of Scientific Advisory Board of the Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Singapore. Howe is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. His other honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Mathematical Association of America's Lester R. Ford Award for exposition.


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The Charles R. DePrima Memorial Undergraduate Mathematics Lecture was established by a gift from Charles R. DePrima and Margaret Thurmond DePrima. The Institute is privileged to honor the memory of Professor DePrima and his distinguished contribution to mathematics and Caltech, where he served as a faculty member for over forty years, with a lecture each year by an outstanding mathematician.