Faculty Lecture Series at Williams College Begins with Chad Topaz

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, executive assistant; tele: 413-597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., January 24, 2019—Chad Topaz, professor of mathematics, will present the first lecture in the 2019 Williams College Faculty Lecture Series on Thursday, Feb. 7. Topaz’s talk, “Patterns, Swarms, and the Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics” will begin at 4:15 p.m. in Wege Auditorium, with a reception to follow in Schow atrium. This event is free and open to the public.

Schools of fish, flocks of birds, herds of mammals, and even colonies of bacteria all show behavior we call “swarming,” but these groups are difficult to understand biologically and mathematically. Topaz will give an overview of how social and biological interactions lead to swarming behavior and discuss how mathematical modeling (describing the real world with mathematics) can be used to study locust swarms, which are the most massive and destructive swarms on Earth. Swarming is related to many phenomena of collective behavior in nature and society, where seemingly independent objects—like neurons, metronomes, and even people—start to act in the same way. This lecture will be interactive and accessible; no technical knowledge is required.

Throughout his career, Topaz has investigated and examined problems in biology, chemistry, physics, and the social sciences through a diversity of lenses; he has endeavored to understand and predict complex behavior using data science, modeling, analysis, topology, geometric dynamical systems, numeric simulation, and experiment. As an applied mathematician, his research on complex and nonlinear systems has been supported continuously by the National Science Foundation since 2006. He holds an A.B. from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

The Faculty Lecture Series was founded in 1911 by Catherine Mariotti Pratt, the spouse of a faculty member who wanted to “relieve the tedium of long New England winters with an opportunity to hear Williams professors talk about issues that really mattered to them.” From these humble and lighthearted beginnings, the Faculty Lecture Series has grown to become an important forum for tenured professors to share their latest research with the larger intellectual community of the college.

The current chair of the series is Greg Mitchell, associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.

The series will continue on Feb. 14 with Phoebe Cohen, associate professor of geosciences, who will discuss “The Evolution of Life before Animals: Building Shields, Dodging Snowballs, and Gasping for Breath.”

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