New England library talk series

Chris Rycroft at Wilmington Memorial Library
Chris Rycroft speaking about The Wonder of π at Wilmington Memorial Library, March 12, 2015

Since 2015 Chris Rycroft has given a series of scientific talks at libraries throughout New England. These talks are aimed at promoting mathematics and science to the general public. They cover the historical development of scientific ideas, but also touch upon contemporary research.

Talks are typically 90 min long, and have had between 10–80 attendees. While talks attract people of all ages, we are particularly keen to encourage school students to attend! The talks also feature question & answer sections, and have also included practical demonstrations developed by Chris Rycroft and members of the Rycroft Group.

We are always looking for more venues to speak! If you are interested in scheduling a talk, please contact Chris Rycroft or Claudia Stearns. Details and dates of previous talks are given below, and photos from previous events are available.

The wonder of pi
DOP853 sample integration

The number π, describing the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, has fascinated mathematicians for millennia. This talk provides a historical overview of the quest to understand this mysterious mathematical constant, covering the methods used by the ancient civilizations all the way up to the present day. More broadly, the history of π provides a window into the advances in mathematical thought that humanity has made throughout the ages.

The talk contains interesting π facts and π trivia, and highlight the contributions that a variety of mathematicians and oddball personalities have made. Nothing more than a high-school level of math is assumed.

See slides from these events and an associated interview with Quincy Access Television.

Talk dates:

  • March 14, 2019 – Newton Free Library, Mass.
  • March 12, 2019 – Flint Public Library, Middleton, Mass.
  • March 15, 2018 – Peabody Institute Library, Danvers, Mass.
  • March 14, 2018 – Thomas Crane Public Library, Quincy, Mass.
  • March 14, 2016 – Amherst Town Library, N.H.
  • March 12, 2015 – Wilmington Memorial Library, Mass.
Enter the fantastic world of fractals
fractals slide

This talk provides an introduction to chaos theory and fractals, a fascinating branch of science that provides insight into the seemingly random and unpredictable patterns of everyday life, such as the weather, the stock market, and the shapes of trees and plants.

See slides from these events and an associated interview with Quincy Access Television.

Talk dates:

  • May 5, 2019 – Burlington Library, Mass.
  • August 22, 2017 – Thomas Crane Public Library, Quincy, Mass.
  • March 21, 2017 – Amherst Town Library, N.H.
  • March 8, 2017 – Wilmington Memorial Library, Mass.
The mathematics of code breaking
code breaking slides

Since the time of antiquity, humans have been sending coded messages to each other in order to protect sensitive information, and there are many instances where this has played a critical role in world events. For example, codebreaking by the Allies of the Enigma Machine had a major effect in World War II; this was popularized by the 2014 movie The Imitation Game.

This talk overview of the development of cryptography. The talk covers historical methods for encoding messages. It also covers the seminal work of Claude Shannon in the 1940's in developing information theory, which laid the foundations for digital communication. Modern approaches that are used to protect everyday internet transactions.

See slides from these events.

Talk dates:

  • April 17, 2018 – Amherst Town Library, N.H.
  • April 11, 2018 – Wilmington Memorial Library, Mass.