What can I do with mathematics?

Bending It Like Bernoulli1

The colored “strings” you see represent air flow around the soccer ball, with the dark blue streams behind the ball signifying a low-pressure wake. Computational fluid dynamics and wind tunnel experiments have shown that there is a transition point between smooth and turbulent flow at around 30 mph, which can dramatically change the path of a kick approaching the net as its speed decreases through the transition point. Players taking free-kicks need not be mathematicians to score, but knowing the results obtained from mathematical facts can help players devise better strategies.

The behavior of a ball depends on its surface design as well as on how it’s kicked. Topology, algebra, and geometry are all important to determine suitable shapes, and modeling helps determine desirable ones. The researchers studying soccer ball trajectories incorporate into their mathematical models not only the pattern of a new ball, but also details right down to the seams. Recently there was a radical change from the long-used pentagon-hexagon pattern to the adidas +TeamgeistTM. Yet the overall framework for the design process remains the same: to approximate a sphere, within less than two percent, using two-dimensional panels.

1 Daniel Bernoulli (BurrNOOlee) was a Swiss mathematician who did pioneering work in fluid flow.

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“Bending a Soccer Ball with CFD,” Sarah Barber and Timothy P. Chartier. SIAM NEWS, July/August 2007.

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While the main motivation to choose math as a major should stem from a combination of keen interest and high ability in math, students are naturally concerned about the opportunities available to a mathematics major or a mathematics teaching major after graduation. At this time, the math major appears to be in a better position than many other majors for employment in business, industry, government agencies, and teaching. The prospects are also good for well-qualified students to obtain support for graduate studies in either mathematics or mathematics education. Also a major in mathematics is excellent preparation for further study in many other fields.

In order to help you clarify your thoughts on what you want to get out of your collegiate experience as a math major, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Why do I like mathematics? What is it about math that attracts me to majoring in mathematics?
  • What type of mathematics do I like? Do I like the computational aspect? The rigor and logic? The problem solving experience? The theoretical aspect? Which content areas interest me?
  • What do I want to do for a career? Do I want to teach, or do I want pursue other avenues? If you want to teach, then:
    • what age group(s) do you want to teach? PreK, 1-6, 6-9, 9-12, college?
    • do you want to teach just mathematics, or do you want to have the flexibility to teach other fields as well?
  • If you are not interested in a career in teaching, then: are you interested in a career in business, industry, government, nonprofits, other alternatives?
  • How much education do I want to complete? Bachelors, Masters, or Ph.D.? Do I want to enter the work force right after graduation with the option to pursue graduate work later?
  • What do I need to do in order to further my career prospects?
  • What should I be doing academically to further my goals? Should I pick up a minor in another area? Should I try to double major?
  • What extracurriculars should I become involved in to further my goals? For example, should I get involved with the math club? Should I participate in the MCM Modeling Competition?
  • What types of work experience should I try to get to further my goals? Should I consider volunteer work experiences such as tutoring? Should I consider internships?
  • What organizations should I become involved in? What conferences or meetings might it be helpful to attend?


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