Magical Mathematics and Topological Barcodes

Two MAA awards for exemplary writing have been announced, and the prizes will be presented during the Joint Prize Session on Thursday, January 10, 2013, at the 2013 Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego, California.

The Euler Book Prize goes to Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham for Magical Mathematics: The Mathematical Ideas That Animate Great Magic Tricks (Princeton University Press, 2012).

The book presents a selection of entertaining magic tricks that are easy to perform, yet embody interesting mathematics. It provides beautifully clear, even elegant explanations, delving into ideas fundamental to mathematics, accompanied by engrossing excursions into the personalities and ideas that have inspired “magical mathematics.”

The eminent authors, Diaconis and Graham, were friends with mathematics and science writer Martin Gardner, and Gardner wrote the book’s foreword not long before he died in 2010. Magical Mathematics includes discussions of several tricks that Gardner invented.

“The authors lead you from delightful self-working magic tricks to serious math, then back again to magic,” Gardner wrote. “It will be a long time before another book so clearly and entertainingly surveys the vast field of mathematical hocus-pocus.”

The Euler Book Prize is awarded annually to the author of an outstanding book about mathematics. The prize is intended to recognize authors of exceptionally well-written books with a positive impact on the public’s view of mathematics and to encourage the writing of such books. This award also honors Virginia and Paul Halmos, whose generosity made the award possible.

The Chauvenet Prize goes to Robert Ghrist for the article “Barcodes: The Persistent Topology of Data,” published in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society.

This paper, based on an invited lecture given by Ghrist at the 2007 Joint Mathematics Meetings, surveys recent applications of computational algebraic topology to the detection of patterns in large sets of in high-dimensional data.

“The author uses attractive illustrations to introduce the reader to the mathematical concept of persistent homology and to its graphical representation through barcodes,” the award citation states.

“The author’s engaging exposition includes a discussion of how persistent homology has been exploited to tease out subtle regularities within a large set of nine-dimensional vectors derived from a database of digital photographs,” it continues. “This survey article reveals modern applied mathematics at its best: sophisticated, abstract mathematics in the service of real-world data analysis.”

The Chauvenet Prize is awarded to the author of an outstanding expository article on a mathematical topic. First awarded in 1925, the prize is named for William Chauvenet, a professor of mathematics at the United States Naval Academy and later at Washington University in St. Louis. It was established through a gift in 1925 from J. L. Coolidge, then MAA President.