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Baylor alum Evelyn Lamb wins prestigious national mathematics fellowship

June 21, 2012 · 2 Comments · Academics, Alumni

By Randy Fiedler

Baylor alumna Evelyn Lamb (BA ’05) received the 2012 American Mathematical Society’s AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. A recent PhD graduate in mathematics at Rice University, the fellowship is allowing her to spend this summer working at Scientific American.

The Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship is organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). It’s a very competitive program designed to improve public understanding of science and technology by placing advanced science, mathematics and engineering students in newsrooms nationwide. Fellows work with media professionals to improve their communication skills and increase their understanding of the editorial process by which events and ideas become news.

“It feels fantastic to be chosen for the fellowship,” Lamb told us. “Grad school is very humbling, so it’s nice to get a little ego boost!”

Lamb said that she had been looking for a way to combine her mathematic research, which is “accessible and interesting only to a few people in my specific field of math,” with more general writing aimed at a larger audience. The AAAS fellowship was a great way to achieve her goal without having to pursue separate training in journalism.

“I know that it will help me figure out whether science writing is a good fit for my interests and strengths, as well as the nuts and bolts of how to pursue that,” she said.

When we spoke with her, Lamb wasn’t quite sure just what type of work she’d be doing for Scientific American this summer, only that previous Fellows had told her she’d have a fair amount of input into the way she covered her stories.

“I hope to do reporting, writing and podcasting on a variety of science topics,” she said. “I will be thrilled if I can do a math story, and I think I have a few nice ideas for them. My field of research, hyperbolic geometry, has a lot of great pictures in it, and I’d love to share those and make people aware of a subject I think is very interesting and beautiful.”

Lamb came to Baylor as an undergraduate intent on studying biochemistry and music as a prelude to medical school. However, she said she never “got” biochemistry, but found herself falling in love with mathematics after taking an upper-level math class taught by Dr. Brian Raines, associate professor of mathematics.

“[Dr. Raines] taught using what is called the ‘Moore method’ or ‘inquiry-based learning.’ He never lectured, but devised problem sets that would lead us on mathematical discovery journeys,” Lamb said. “That class was what made me realize that math is not a set of formulas that you memorize and use to get the right answer for long calculus problems. It’s a creative art, and it’s beautiful when you find a proof that really works in an elegant way.”

Lamb went on to earn a BA in mathematics from Baylor and completed her PhD at Rice in May 2012. She will start a postdoctoral fellowship in math at the University of Chicago in fall 2013.

Lamb is glad that she was able to discover her passion during her time at Baylor.

“”You can probably tell I’m pretty wild about math,” she said. “I’d like people to know that math is a lot more than stuffy equations and right or wrong answers. We mathematicians are creative, and we’re always looking for new ways to solve problems or visualize situations.”

When she’s not solving mathematical problems, you might find Lamb spending time with her husband, playing the viola or posting about cooking on her food blog.

POSTSCRIPT: Evelyn tells us she’s already completed two stories for Scientific American that are available online: “How Listeners Shape the Evolution of Music” and “Bright Idea: New ‘Tractor Beam’ Proposal Relies on Negative Radiation Pressure.”

2 Comments

  • Evelyn

    Since that interview, my first few stories have gone live. If you search my name on the Scientific American page, you should find them.

  • Dr Steve Auerbach

    Hacker is mostly correct that our current junior high through high school math curriculum spends too much time on algebra (often the same material repeatedly over and over again over multiple years), leading to calculus or at least pre-calculus. Our current math curriculum is a relic of a bygone era, based on 19th Century ideal of the education a landed gentleman should have, notably algebra and trig in order to do land surveying and architecture. A modern, rigourous, scientific and nationally useful curriculum would spend much more time on logic, probabilty and statisics, which are not universally (or even often) taught as part of the mandatory universal curriculum. And insofar as something has to be reduced to make room, then advanced algebra should proably be it. This is not dumbing down. It is moving from 19th century to 21st century.

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