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Why “mathbabe”?

June 13, 2011

Let me tell you a bit about my childhood.

I grew up in Lexington, MA, which is an upper-middle class liberal suburb of Boston.  Most of the people I went to school with had parents that either worked at or went to Harvard or M.I.T. – it was a pretty nerdy, intellectual environment.  My parents, both computer scientists, moved there for the public schools.

In spite of that, I was a hopeless, pathetic nerd.  My idea of fun was practicing classical piano, watching “Amadeus” over and over again, and factoring license plate numbers in my head.  When you add to that the facts that I wore glasses, braces, and was chubby, you are talking about one pathetic young nerd girl.  When, you top *that* off with the fact that I went through puberty at the wrong time, you can imagine that I went through junior high wondering what everyone was smoking.  Oh, and did I mention that my mom hated shopping so I was always wearing one of two bright pink stretch polyester pants?  And that my personal hygiene skills were undeveloped?  You get the picture.

I was lucky enough to have a best friend starting in 7th grade, who saved me from many pits of despair (although not all).  But come high school, my self-esteem was pretty crappy, and the only thing I seemed to be good at, my refuge, was piano and math team.

My parents did an excellent job of not really caring about what I did for the most part, so I wasn’t at all pressured into doing math, and definitely not pressured into doing music.  When I came home with an advertisement from a math camp at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, though, my parents essentially bribed me to go.  It didn’t take much convincing, I was intrigued.

Here’s where we get to the title of the post.  When I got there, I quickly noticed there were 50 boys and 10 girls.  And then I noticed that a bunch of these guys were kind of… cool, they were mostly from places like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science and Evanston, places I’d never heard of but which obviously placed a premium on being a math nerd.  Then, this was the miracle, I noticed that these cool, sexy guys, thought I was cool and sexy.  OMG, I was a math babe!

It was the first moment I had ever felt like I belonged somewhere, that I was with my peeps.  I learned lots of math that first summer, and although most of the specifics kind of wore away over the following year, the feeling that I had a community never did.  Actually the one thing I did really learn for good that summer was how to solve the Rubik’s cube using group theory (a subject for another post!).  And I distinctly remember carrying around a Rubik’s cube like a piece of platinum my entire junior year of high school, just because it reminded me that I was, in fact, a math babe, at least in one context (although not here!  not here whatsoever!).

Which reminds me!  This summer, I’m very excited to be going back to the same math camp to teach as a senior staff member.  Here’s the list of stuff I have prepared to teach this crop of math studs and math babes:

1) magic squares and generalizations. I just figured out how to generate all 3×3 magic squares! I love those little guys.
2) elementary number theory: fundamental theorem of arithmetic
3) cool geometry stuff like bisectors of angles and sides and all those cool theorems
4) pigeon hole principle, lots of examples
5) euler’s formula and the platonic solids
6) cool stuff with perfect numbers and non-perfect numbers
7) proof by induction, lots of examples
8) basic graph theory
9) bipartite graphs and related theorems.
10) basic ramsey theory
11) more number theory
12) farey fractions
13) continued fractions and the golden ratio

I can’t friggin wait!!  Please send me more suggestions if I’m missing something that they really need to know.  By the way I’m only teaching the first three weeks, because I couldn’t arrange for the whole 6- the second half they will be learning more specialized subjects from some very cool mathematicians.

Actually there’s another reason I ultimately decided to call this blog “mathbabe,” namely when I googled it, I was first of all offended that the name wasn’t already taken by some other woman math nerd who posting about cool stuff, but what really offended me was that there’s another site with a very similar name which simply shows nearly naked women next to cliff notes on basic math subjects.  WTF?!?  It is ridiculously obvious to me that math babes should be doing math, not adorning it.  So I kind of had to call myself mathbabe after that.

  1. June 14, 2011 at 4:19 am

    You are the Original Mathbabe. Mathbabe-naught.

    Re: teaching topics: I recommend leading a nature walk in which the students look for examples of the Fibonacci series in biological organisms.

    I love this blog. Talk nerdy to me.


  2. Elena
    June 14, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Love it! I am hooked.


  3. September 13, 2011 at 5:12 am

    In my year at University there were about a dozen of us studying BSc mathematics of whom two were girls. I often wondered whether the resulting extra attention was welcome, or whether it wore thin after a while.

    As the course progressed, I discovered that Noether’s first name was Emmy and that she was a Swedish lady. I wondered how why I had not been informed of her gender during the Algebra course on rings. After all, nobody had thought twice about informing me that Euler, for example was male.

    There is a channel, the catsters on you tube, where there are a set of category theory lectures. The lectures are by Simon Woolerton and Eugenia Cheng. Eugenia Cheng is actually pretty enough that I have to remind myself to study the lecture, not the lecturer :S


    • Peter Lund
      April 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      German, not Swedish. You might be confusing her with Sofia Kovalevska — who was Russian 😉

      (Also spelled Sophia, Sonja, Kovalevsky, etc.)


    • James
      April 13, 2012 at 11:06 pm

      You are clearly trying to be complimentary, but your phrasing of “Eugenia Cheng is actually pretty enough that I have to remind myself to study the lecture, not the lecturer” is non-optimal.


  1. April 8, 2012 at 7:01 am
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