Mathematicians look like all of us project

A couple years ago, I realized that whenever I would talk about the mathematicians who created the math we were doing in class, there were a lot of similarities in the people that I was displaying on the board. In my class, no two students were alike. But every mathematician I was displaying looked the same. The following year, after my students took their end of year exam, I decided to spend the last few weeks of school doing a mathematician project. For this project, I had the students pick from a list of mathematicians that I gave them, fill out a bio sheet, and make a presentation. They got bonus points if they dressed up and presented as their mathematician of choice. I’ve enjoyed learning about mathematicians from around the world. I hope that by sharing with my friends, who share with their friends, and by the people who find me through my hashtag, that people will start to see that mathematicians look like all of us. It is not a field set aside just for European men in powdered wigs. Mathematicians come from all centuries, all countries, and all socioeconomic backgrounds. Mathematicians really do look like all of us!

Like so many awesome math teachers, I met Megan McLean through social media at some point over the last few years. Megan is a teacher all the way on the other side of the US, and with the help of Instagram, I get to feel like she is my colleague next door. Over the last few months, Megan has been researching mathematicians from all over the world and collecting their stories into her Instagram account @mathematicianslooklikeallofus. This post highlights a small sliver of the mathematicians she has found and also links to where we can learn more. Here is Megan's guest post on the work she has done so far on this important project.


Guest post by Megan McLean


Hi! I’m Megan McLean, a Math and Engineering teacher at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Washington. I’ve been teaching for 13 years. In that time, I have taught in the US and also in South Korea, which was an amazing experience. In my former life, I was a Mechanical Engineer having gotten a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Idaho (GO VANDALS!). I became a teacher because I wanted to inspire students to see themselves as mathematicians and to help develop in others the love I have for math.

Hi! I’m Megan McLean, a Math and Engineering teacher at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Washington. I’ve been teaching for 13 years. In that time, I have taught in the US and also in South Korea, which was an amazing experience. In my former life, I was a Mechanical Engineer having gotten a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Idaho (GO VANDALS!). I became a teacher because I wanted to inspire students to see themselves as mathematicians and to help develop in others the love I have for math.

View this post on Instagram

Maria del Carmen Domínguez Álvarez, also Karmenka, (born 1969) is a Spanish glaciologist, polar explorer and mathematician. She is a co-founder of the Glackma Project which since 2001 has networked the measurement of glacier discharge in the polar regions. She has undertaken over 60 polar expeditions in Antarctica, Patagonia, Iceland, Svalbard and Siberia. Her work is considered to have contributed significantly to the understanding of global warming. Born in Oviedo, Domínguez studied mathematics at the University of Groningen and the University of Salamanca where she now teaches. Keen to use mathematics for practical applications, in 1997 she became interested in glaciers after hearing the geologist Adolfo Eraso's talk about Argentina's Perito Moreno Glacier. She joined him in investigating glaciers in the polar regions in 1997. In 2001, together with Eraso, she founded the Glackma project which set out to study the discharge of glaciers as a component of global warming. For almost two decades, the hourly amount of glacier discharge (i.e. the amount of ice which has melted) has been measured in seven different polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctica. Domínguez has revealed that over the first 13 years the amount of water discharged doubled and over the next four years it doubled again. Source: Wikipedia #MathematiciansLookLikeAllOfUs

A post shared by Mathematicians Look Like All (@mathematicianslooklikeallofus) on


A couple years ago, I realized that whenever I would talk about the mathematicians who created the math we were doing in class, there were a lot of similarities in the people that I was displaying on the board. In my class, no two students were alike. But every mathematician I was displaying looked the same. 

Math teacher Megan McLean talks about her Mathematicians Look Like All of Us math project she has been doing with her math students and how much of an impact it has made. In the post is a video of Megan being interviewed by her school district about her math project and digital links to where we can learn more. scaffoldedmath.com

Not long after that, I attended a talk from an engineer from Turkey. She spoke about how, as a female engineer from the Middle East, that she was often not taken seriously because she didn't “look like an engineer” (think Howard Wolowitz). She started to look into how people perceive who’s qualified in different fields and also into the people who were entering those fields. She found that when we only display stereotypes, like Howard Wolowitz, those fields tend to mostly draw people who saw themselves in those stereotypes. This got me thinking about how I wanted to start inspiring my students to see themselves as mathematicians.

View this post on Instagram

Edray Herber Goins (born June 29, 1972, Los Angeles) is an American mathematician. He specializes in number theory and algebraic geometry. His interests include Selmer groups for elliptic curves using class groups of number fields, Belyi maps and Dessin d'enfants. Goins was born in Los Angeles in 1972. His mother, Eddi Beatrice Brown, was a teacher. He attended public schools in South Los Angeles and got his BSc in mathematics and physics in 1994 from California Institute of Technology, where he also received two prizes for mathematics. He completed his PhD in 1999 on “Elliptic Curves and Icosahedral Galois Representations” from Stanford University, under Daniel Bump and Karl Rubin. He served for many years on the faculty of Purdue University. He has also served as visiting scholar at both the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Harvard. Goins took a position at Pomona College in 2018. His summers have focused on engaging underrepresented students in research in the mathematical sciences. He currently runs the NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) "Pomona Research in Mathematics Experience (PRiME)". He is noted for his 2018 essay, "Three Questions: The Journey of One Black Mathematician". Goins is President of the National Association of Mathematicians (NAM). He was elected to the 2019 Class of Fellows of the Association for Women in Mathematics. Source: Wikipedia #mathematicians #mathematicianslooklikeallofus #americanmathematicians

A post shared by Mathematicians Look Like All (@mathematicianslooklikeallofus) on


The following year, after my students took their end of year exam, I decided to spend the last few weeks of school doing a mathematician project. For this project, I had the students pick from a list of mathematicians that I gave them, fill out a bio sheet, and make a presentation. They got bonus points if they dressed up and presented as their mathematician of choice. 

View this post on Instagram

Muhammad Habibar Rahman was a Bengali intellectual who was killed in the Bangladesh Liberation war and is considered a martyr in Bangladesh. Rahman was born in Baliadhar, Noakhali District, East Bengal, British India on 1 January 1923. He finished his SSC from Dattapara High School in 1938 and HSC from Calcutta Islamia College in 1940. He finished his undergraduate studies in mathematics from Presidency College in Kolkata. He completed his Masters in mathematics from the Aligarh University. He joined Dhaka College as a professor of mathematics in 1946. In 1951 he received government funding to study in Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. He graduated from Cambridge in 1953 after finishing the Tripos in mathematics. He worked in Presidency College in Kolkata before joining Rajshahi University in 1954. He joined as a professor of mathematics and by in 1958 had been promoted to reader. In 1962 he pursued higher studies in applied mathematics in the United States. From 1964 to 1966 he served as the chairman of the Department of Mathematics at Rajshahi University. From 1967 to 1970 he served as the provost of Ameer Ali Hall of Rajshahi University after which returned to being the chairman of the Department of Mathematics. He was a member of the Dhaka Rationalist club. The Pakistan Army on 15 April 1971 captured him from his home in front of his family and he never came back, is presumed to be dead. (Note: this was during a cleansing of Bangladeshi intellectuals.) Rajshahi University named Shaheed (Martyr) Habibur Rahman Hall after him. The dorm has a bust of him in its entrance. He was also awarded with "Ekushey Padak" (Lit: TwentyFirst Award) second highest civilian award in Bangladesh. Source: Wikipedia #MathematiciansLookLikeAllOfUs

A post shared by Mathematicians Look Like All (@mathematicianslooklikeallofus) on


It was an eye-opening experience to see that the mathematicians my students chose mostly looked like them: students of color chose mathematicians who were people of color and the girls chose women mathematicians. 

View this post on Instagram

Jamal Nazrul Islam (24 February 1939 – 16 March 2013) was a Bangladeshi mathematical physicist and cosmologist. He was a professor at University of Chittagong, served as a member of the advisory board at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology and member of the syndicate at Chittagong University of Engineering & Technology until his death . He also served as the director of the Research Center for Mathematical and Physical Sciences (RCMPS) at the University of Chittagong, Bangladesh. He was awarded Ekushey Padak in 2000 by the Government of Bangladesh. Islam was born on 24 February 1939 in Jhenaidah, East Bengal. His father, Khan Bahadur Sirajul Islam, was a sub-judge in British India. Because of his father's job, Islam spent his early school years in Calcutta. He studied at Chittagong Collegiate School and College until ninth grade and then he went to Lawrence College, Murree in West Pakistan to pass the Senior Cambridge and Higher Senior Cambridge exams. He received a BSc degree from St. Xavier's College at the University of Calcutta. In 1959, he got his Honors in Functional Mathematics and Theoretical Physics from Cambridge University. He completed his Masters in 1960. As a student of the Trinity College, he finished the Mathematical Tripos. Islam obtained his PhD in applied mathematics and theoretical physics from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1968, followed by a DSc in 1982. Islam worked in the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy (later amalgamated to Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge) from 1967 until 1971. Later he worked as a researcher in California Institute of Technology and University of Washington. During 1973–1974 he served as the faculty of Applied Mathematics of King's College London. In 1978 he then joined the faculty of City University London until he returned to Chittagong in 1984. In 2006, he was made Professor Emeritus at the University of Chittagong. His research areas include Applied Mathematics, Theoretical Physics, Mathematical Physics, theory of Gravitation, General Relativity, Mathematical Cosmology and Quantum Field Theory. Islam authored/coauthored/edited more than 50 scientific articles, books and some popular articles.

A post shared by Mathematicians Look Like All (@mathematicianslooklikeallofus) on


After that first year, I decided that I needed to expand this project to more than just the students in my class for the last couple weeks of school. I saved all the biography sheets and the presentations and shared the project with my math department, hoping to encourage them to start to share with their students that mathematicians that aren’t just Pythagoras, Euler, Newton, or Gauss. 

View this post on Instagram

Divsha Amirà (Hebrew: ????? ??????; 1899 – 9 April 1966) was an Israeli mathematician and educator.Amirà was born in Bra?sk, Russian Empire to Rivka (née Garbuz) and Aharon Itin. She immigrated to Israel with her family in 1906. Her father was one of the founders of Ahuzat Bayit (today Tel Aviv), a founder of the Tel Aviv Great Synagogue, and the owner of the first publishing house in Jaffa. She graduated in the second class of the Herzliya Gymnasium in 1914. Amirà studied at the University of Göttingen and obtained her doctorate from the University of Geneva in 1924 under the guidance of Herman Müntz Her doctoral thesis, published in 1925, provided a projective synthesis of Euclidean geometry. After leaving Geneva, Amirà worked at Gymnasia Rehavia in Jerusalem, and taught several courses on geometry at the Einstein Institute of Mathematics. She later taught at the Levinsky College of Education and Beit-Hakerem High School, where her students included such future mathematicians as Ernst G. Straus. Source: Wikipedia #MathematiciansLookLikeAllOfUs

A post shared by Mathematicians Look Like All (@mathematicianslooklikeallofus) on


This past summer, while working too hard to prepare for this crazy new school year, I decided to break up the monotony of quarantining with my parents and working way too hard posting a mathematician a day on my Facebook page. After a few posts, a friend told me I needed to make this project its own Instagram account and @mathematicianslooklikeallofus and #MathematiciansLookLikeAllOfUs were born. 

View this post on Instagram

Nkechi Madonna Adeleine Agwu (born October 8, 1962) is a mathematics teacher. Agwu is a naturalized American citizen, tenured faculty at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, part of the City University of New York, and was a director of the college's Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Scholarship. Agwu was born in Enugu, Nigeria, the daughter of two teachers; Jacob Ukeje Agwu from Nigeria, and Europa Lauretta Durosimi Wilson, from Sierra Leone. In the Nigerian Civil War, her family supported the Biafran side, their home in Umuahia was damaged by Nigerian bombers. In 1968, Agwu, her mother, and her siblings left Nigeria on the final evacuation plane taking Biafrans to a refugee camp in Equatorial Guinea, and were moved from there to camps in Liberia and Sierra Leone. They left the refugee camps for her grandmother's house in Sierra Leone, but it had burned down, leaving them homeless. Most of her family returned to Nigeria after the end of the war in 1970, rejoining Agwu's father who had left the government service to become a farmer. Agwu stayed behind in Freetown, Sierra Leone as a student at the Fourah Bay College Primary School and then at the Annie Walsh Memorial School. In 1980, Agwu returned to Nigeria. She studied mathematics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, earning a bachelor's degree with honours in 1984. On the recommendation of two of her university teachers, James O. C. Ezeilo and Isabelle Adjaero, she went to the University of Connecticut for graduate study, the same university where Adjaero earned her PhD. Agwu started her studies there in 1987, after working as a government statistician and as a lecturer at Kaduna Polytechnic.

A post shared by Mathematicians Look Like All (@mathematicianslooklikeallofus) on


I have no set way of how I find my posts and most are excerpts from Wikipedia. Within Wikipedia there is a subcategory called mathematicians by country, which has been super useful. Within it there are even more subcategories of mathematicians by century and women mathematicians

The University of Buffalo is also a great source for Mathematicians of the African Diaspora, some that aren’t even in Wikipedia. I have no set algorithm but I do try to rotate between female and male mathematicians. As well as try to mix it up by not doing just one continent or one period of time too often.

View this post on Instagram

Nalini Joshi AO is an Australian mathematician. She is a professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sydney, the first woman in the School to hold this position, and is a past-president of the Australian Mathematical Society. Joshi is a member of the School's Applied Mathematics Research Group. Her research concerns integrable systems. She was awarded the Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship in 2012. Joshi was born and spent her childhood in Burma. In 2007, she described her experience growing up there: My father was in the army and I grew up near jungles with wild animals. I had the freedom to explore all day long so long as I went to school and that's what I actually seek every time I look at mathematics; it's an adventure, an exploration, forging new paths into territories nobody else has looked at before. Joshi gained her Bachelor of Science with honours in 1980 at the University of Sydney, and her PhD at Princeton University under the supervision of Martin David Kruskal. Her PhD thesis was entitled The Connection Problem for the First and Second Painlevé Transcendents. In 2015, Joshi co-founded and co-chaired the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program, which works to increase retention of women in STEM fields using Athena SWAN principles. Since 2016, she has served as a member of the SAGE Expert Advisory Group. Source: Wikipedia #MathematiciansLookLikeAllOfUs

A post shared by Mathematicians Look Like All (@mathematicianslooklikeallofus) on


As I started posting different mathematicians, I realized that there were a lot of similar threads. In addition to posting biographies and achievements of individual mathematicians, I have also done stories on the University of Göttingen, which for a while was THE place for a mathematician to study or work. Many well known Scientists and Mathematicians have gone through the University of Göttingen. 

View this post on Instagram

Terence Chi-Shen Tao FAA FRS (born 17 July 1975) is an Australian-American mathematician. He is a professor of mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he holds the James and Carol Collins chair. His research includes topics in harmonic analysis, partial differential equations, algebraic combinatorics, arithmetic combinatorics, geometric combinatorics, probability theory, compressed sensing and analytic number theory. He was a recipient of the 2006 Fields Medal and the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. He is also a 2006 MacArthur Fellow. Tao has been the author or co-author of over three hundred research papers. A child prodigy, Tao exhibited extraordinary mathematical abilities from an early age, attending university-level mathematics courses at the age of 9. He is one of only two children in the history of the Johns Hopkins' Study of Exceptional Talent program to have achieved a score of 700 or greater on the SAT math section while just eight years old; Tao scored a 760. Julian Stanley, Director of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth stated that he had the greatest mathematical reasoning ability he had found in years of intensive searching. Tao was the youngest participant to date in the International Mathematical Olympiad. At age 14, Tao attended the Research Science Institute. When he was 15, he published his first assistant paper. In 1991, he received his bachelor's and master's degrees at the age of 16 from Flinders University under the direction of Garth Gaudry. In 1992, he won a Postgraduate Fulbright Scholarship to undertake research in mathematics at Princeton University in the United States. From 1992 to 1996, Tao was a graduate student at Princeton University under the direction of Elias Stein, receiving his PhD at the age of 21. In 1996, he joined the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1999, when he was 24, he was promoted to full professor at UCLA and remains the youngest person ever appointed to that rank by the institution. Source: Wikipedia #mathematicians #mathematicianslooklikeallofus #australianmathematicians #chinesemathematicians

A post shared by Mathematicians Look Like All (@mathematicianslooklikeallofus) on


I’ve also reported on the mathematician genealogy project that connects mathematicians in a family tree based on their PhD advisors. The Mathematician community is relatively small when looked at in this way with most connected to just a few! 

View this post on Instagram

Mileva Mari? (Serbian Cyrillic: ?????? ?????; December 19, 1875 – August 4, 1948), sometimes called Mileva Mari?-Einstein or Mileva Mari?-Ajnštajn (Serbian Cyrillic: ?????? ?????-????????), was a Serbian physicist and mathematician and the first wife of Albert Einstein from 1903 to 1919. She was the only woman among Einstein's fellow students at Zürich's Polytechnic and was the second woman to finish a full program of study at the Department of Mathematics and Physics. Mari? and Einstein were collaborators and lovers and had a daughter Lieserl in 1902, whose fate is unknown. They later had two sons, Hans Albert and Eduard. The question whether (and if so, to what extent) Mari? contributed to Albert Einstein's early work, and to the Annus Mirabilis Papers in particular, is the subject of debate. Many professional historians of physics argue that she made no significant scientific contribution, while others suggest that she was a supportive companion in science and may have helped him materially in his research. The couple's first son, Hans Albert, said that when his mother married Einstein, she gave up her scientific ambitions. Part of the case for Mari? as a co-author of some of Einstein's early work, putatively culminating in the 1905 papers, is based on the following evidence: "The testimony of the well-known Russian physicist Abram Joffe, who gave the name of the author of the three Annus Mirabilis Papers as Einstein-Marity, erroneously attributing the addition of the name Marity, Mari?'s official name, to a non-existing Swiss custom." In the paragraph in question, in which Joffe stated that "Einstein's" entrance into the arena of science in 1905 was "unforgettable", he described the author (singular) of the 1905 papers as "a bureaucrat at the Patent Office in Bern", i.e., Albert Einstein. Thus, while some scholars have argued that there is not enough evidence to support the idea that Mari? helped Einstein to develop his theories, others have argued that their letters suggest a collaboration between them, at least through 1901 before their children were born. Source: Wikipedia #mathematicianslooklikeallofus #mathematicians #weareallmathpeople

A post shared by Mathematicians Look Like All (@mathematicianslooklikeallofus) on


I’ve enjoyed learning about mathematicians from around the world. I hope that by sharing with my friends, who share with their friends, and by the people who find me through my hashtag, that people will start to see that mathematicians look like all of us. It is not a field set aside just for European men in powdered wigs. Mathematicians come from all centuries, all countries, and all socioeconomic backgrounds. Mathematicians really do look like all of us!


You can follow Megan's Mathematicians Look Like All of Us project on her Instagram account @mathematicianslooklikeallofus.


Further reading:

Ashley M linked The Mathematicians Project in the comments. Because it's not clickable there, I am adding it here.




4 comments:

  1. First off, this is awesome. Congrats on the great work.

    This sounds very similar to "The Mathematician Project"(https://arbitrarilyclose.com/2016/08/21/the-mathematicians-project-mathematicians-are-not-just-white-dudes/), which I and several of my colleagues have adapted and incorporated into our college math courses to have students research a mathematician and post a bio on a discussion board (online course). On that website is a link to a substantial Google Sheet of mathematicians that can be sorted by ethnicity, preferred pronouns, country of origin, etc.

    Having our students discover mathematicians that look like them can help them see themselves as mathematicians. It has been a wonderful and heartwarming project for my classes and I plan to continue it into all of my future classes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing this. I'm going to add the website you mentioned into the blog post so that it is clickable.

      Delete
    2. Thanks! Anything to get students excited about math is a great thing. :-)

      Delete
    3. Definitely! And it's high time more mathematicians become common knowledge.

      Delete