This class says Geometry and Logic in the corner of the chalkboard at the front. Apparently, it is another class on logic, but now there is geometry thrown into the mix. I am intrigued.
The instructor, Xavier, is energetic and he calls each student by name as he peppers the room with questions.
He wonders how we can figure out what c is when we know c^2=8. A student calls out that c is the square root of 8.
Xavier follows up, smiling, to see if Eduardo was just guessing, but no:
"No, I didn’t guess..." Eduardo responds, "It's 'cause taking the square root is the opposite of squaring something."
I am impressed that in one sentence Eduardo has gotten at the heart of what mathematicians mean by inverse equations. It is a concept that can confound even college students. But I can’t stay for more insights today.
I am off to my final class. As I slip into my seat, I am startled to see scrawled across the board: "Are there Aliens in the Milky Way?"
A massive equation containing many letters is sprawled somewhere beneath it. The students are clearly in the process of grappling with the equation and what it means. The instructor, Susan, asks them to replace L = (1/10)^8 in their previous calculation, with L = (1/10)^2. Immediately, diligent pencil-scratching begins, heads bent, eyebrows furrowed with concentration.
This is what I call the "dirty work" of mathematics. Complex computations don’t encompass what mathematicians do. Mathematicians are much more than mere human calculators after all. But such calculations do form an important aspect of the job of many mathematicians and scientists. BEAM students in this class are building the patience and the stamina to handle even very complex formulas, and learning some mind-boggling astronomy at the same time.