Right now I am at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego, CA. This is an annual event where members of the USA's three major mathematical societies - AMS (the American Mathematical Society), MAA (the Mathematical Association of America), and SIAM (the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) - get together for discussion, presentation, and learning new ideas. Several thousand mathematicians all in one place can be a bit overwhelming! Here are some highlights from my experience at the Joint Meeting.
- I began the meeting by attending a two-day short course on conceptual climate models. This involved a mixture of theoretical presentations and hands-on calculations using MATLAB (as a MATLAB neophyte, I found this part difficult.) From the course web site: "In this two-day short course, the presenters will introduce various conceptual models of the Earth's climate system. The first day will be devoted to Energy Balance Models (EBMs)—differential equations which express the physical law of energy conservation in mathematical terms. It will be shown how the models can be modified to include the effects of greenhouse gases and the ice-albedo feedback mechanism. The second day will be devoted to paleoclimate studies. It will be shown how observational data from the paleoclimate record and computational data from simulations of the Earth's orbit during the Pliocene and Pleistocene can be incorporated into EBMs." There were a good number of participants ranging from the mildly curious to the highly committed. I'm thinking that I can use some of what I learned in the course I'm developing, and I might discuss some of the more advanced parts in a seminar.
- Several of the plenary sessions focused on climate issues including a talk by Emily Shuckburgh of the British Antarctic Survey and another by Ken Golden from Utah. Emily's talk was fascinating for the way in which the abstractions of dynamical systems theory suddenly became concrete --- for example, stable and unstable manifolds became actual currents in the Southern Ocean, and Lyapunov exponents quantified the behavior of buoys which were dropped from a ship which traveled to a critical point located by satellite measurements.
- I attended an inspiring presentation by my friend Francis Su from Harvey Mudd College, one of the winners of the Haimo Award, a national teaching award from the MAA. In this very personal talk, Francis shared the lesson that "a person's value does not depend on their accomplishments" but is affirmed when another person meets them with grace, and talked about how teachers can be grace-givers. (UPDATE: Here is a link to the text of the talk.)