Niven Lecture to Explore History and Importance of Polynomials

a black board with the quadratic equation written in white chalk

May 17, 2024 - 9:30am

Why did we all have to learn the quadratic formula in middle school? Is learning how to find the roots of a polynomial actually useful? 

Professor Benson Farb from the University of Chicago will answer those questions during the Department of Mathematics' 2024 Niven Lecture at 4 p.m. Monday, May 20, in 110 Fenton Hall. 

Farb's general-audience talk on "Polynomials, Braids, and You" will trace a path through the 5,000-year-old history of polynomials, explore how they became a cornerstone of math and physics, and spotlight some of the new ideas mathematicians are using to understand them, including the theory of configuration spaces and braid groups. 

The Niven Lectures are held annually in honor of Ivan Niven, an internationally renowned number theorist who was a member of the University of Oregon faculty from 1947 to his retirement in 1981. In addition to being a prolific author of mathematical research articles, Niven served as the president of the Mathematical Association of America from 1983 to 1984 and wrote several popular books on mathematics aimed at the undergraduate level. 

Farb will also deliver a second, more advanced lecture on "Rigidity of moduli spaces and algebro-geometric constructions" May 21 at 4 p.m. 110 Fenton Hall. The second lecture is geared toward faculty, graduate students and advanced undergraduates.