You are here

Reports of SIGMAAs

This is an extended article from the April/May issue of MAA FOCUS.


To a standing-room-only audience, Tony DeRose (senior scientist and lead of the research group at Pixar Animation Studios) showed how mathematics is used in creating many of the digital effects seen in Pixar films. DeRose’s lecture was one part of the activities of the Business, Industry, and Government Special Interest Group of the MAA (BIG SIGMAA) at the JMM in January.
DeRose displayed numerous examples drawn from Pixar films, including Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo; and Toy Story 3. His work focuses on modeling, animating, and rendering complex shapes. He explained how certain noise functions have been used for 3D computer graphics and explained some of their pitfalls. He concluded by using the theory of wavelets to create a new class of noise functions that are markedly better than existing ones when 3D noise is used to texture a 2D surface.

BIG SIGMAA also organized the “Mathematics Experiences in Business, Industry, and Government” paper session. Nine contributed talks covered a diverse range of areas: ▶ Timothy Andersen (Daniel H. Wagner Associates) spoke about how to use Bayesian networks to make knowledge inferences about uncertain data gathered from a terrorist network. ▶ Candice Rockell (Old Dominion University) showed the mathematics behind radiation transport through shielding materials that is useful for measuring radiation exposure to astronauts. ▶ Mike O’Leary (Towson University) explained an algorithm that estimates the location of a serial criminal’s home base and corresponding custom software. ▶ Sonja Sandberg (Framingham State University) demonstrated how a mathematical model could be used to predict the impact of a vaccination campaign on an area’s blood supply. ▶ William Fox (Naval Postgraduate School) presented a way to detect and identify suicide bombers from a distance. ▶ Vincent Dimiceli (Oral Roberts University) spoke about how to estimate the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) index -- used to indicate the heat stress level for humans and animals -- without costly instruments. ▶ Carl Moravitz (IBM Global Business Services) showcased many U.S. government agencies that use mathematical modeling to address budgeting and financial management issues, covering such areas as Social Security and Medicare programs, debt and revenue management, delivery systems to taxpayers, and intelligence operations. ▶ James Fife (Educational Testing Service) explored difficulties in certain open-ended mathematics questions and used pilot studies to offer revisions that preserve the skills and abilities the original questions were designed to measure. ▶ Petronela Radu (University of Nebraska at Lincoln) demonstrated how Math in the City, an interdisciplinary course designed for hands-on learning experiences on real world problems, is run and gave some examples of local projects and student successes.
BIG SIGMAA’s events at the JMM concluded with a reception.

BIG SIGMAA helps to build partnerships and to increase awareness of opportunities for mathematicians in business, industry, government, and academia. Look for BIG SIGMAA events at next year’s JMM and learn more at its website,


The Special Interest Group on Mathematical and Computational (BIO SIGMAA) had several events in New Orleans. It cosponsored a panel session titled “Creating/Improving the Biomathematics/Biostatistics Course.” The panelists were Pam Ryan, Truman University; Fred Adler, University of Utah; Laurie Heyer, Davidson College; and Deborah Nolan, University of California, Berkeley. The panel was organized by Michael A. Posner, Villanova University; Raina Robeva, Sweet Briar College; and Holly Gaff, Old Dominion University. Cosponsors were the SIGMAA on Statistics Education, and the ASA/MAA Joint Committee on Undergraduate Statistics.

After the BIO SIGMAA business meeting, Mac Hyman of Tulane University gave an excellent, engaging lecture, “Simple Mathematical Models Can Provide New Insights into Stopping Epidemics.” On the final day of the meetings, BIO SIGMAA ran a contributed paper session, “Trends in Undergraduate Mathematical Biology Education,” in which more than 20 talks were presented.

SIGMAA on Math Circles

The SIGMAA on Math Circles sponsored two events involving local middle school and high school students.

In a math wrangle, high schoolers divided into two groups for this lively mathematical event that combines problem solving with debate skills. A math wrangle is a valuable experience for the participants as well as an exciting event to watch.

Jim Tanton led a sample math circle for local middle and high school students to demonstrate why students have such a wonderful time at math circles.

James Tanton (St. Mark's School) leads a Math Circles demonstration with local New Orleans students from Riverside Academy, Warren Easton High School, and Mandeville High School during the 2011 Joint Mathematics Meetings in New Orleans.

James Tanton (St. Mark's School) leads a Math Circles demonstration with local New Orleans students from Riverside Academy, Warren Easton High School, and Mandeville High School during the 2011 Joint Mathematics Meetings in New Orleans.


The HOM SIGMAA held its 10th annual business meeting in New Orleans. After a little work and great food, the group welcomed its guest speakers. Husband and wife team Ken Clements and Nerida Ellerton of Illinois State University spoke on “The Special Role of Cyphering Books in the Early History of Mathematics Education in North America.” Cyphering books were used across Europe for hundreds of years and in the United States into the 19th century. Before readily available textbooks and our dear spiral-bound notebooks, schoolchildren carefully wrote down their solutions to exercises set by their teachers. These beautifully written and artistic books, especially in mathematics, became references for life and family heirlooms. Over the years, Ken and Nerida have collected hundreds of such books. They brought several dozen to with them to share with the audience. Their initial curiosity over these treasures has turned into a major research focus as well as a passion.

Read more MAA Sample Articles and Features