FOJBI Friday: Anna Haensch, Podcaster And Mathematician

Jul 22, 2016
Originally published on July 22, 2016 2:09 pm

The "Friends of Joe's Big Idea" is a vibrant community of talented people we think you should meet. With our feature, FOJBI Friday, we'll introduce some of these cool communicators of science, in their own words. This week: Anna Haensch


I'm a mathematician — an assistant professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. My research is in number theory, mostly involving objects called quadratic lattices, which have important applications in coding theory and cryptography.

Importance of science communication

Understanding math, or at least having some level of quantitative comfort, is really a social justice issue. Having a better understanding of math empowers people to make better choices for themselves and creates a more informed electorate. Knowing math is good for democracy. I also think that math is this really fun and beautiful thing — of course I should be sharing it!

Current projects

I co-host a podcast with my best friend, Annie Rorem. It's called The Other Half, and it's about understanding the everyday stuff of life by using math. In our first episode we take a mathematical approach to understanding racism and segregation. We talk to a video game developer who recently gamified a Nobel Prize-winning paper on game theory that explains, quantitatively, how a small intolerance for racial difference can lead to huge segregation and social ills. What we've long suspected, and what our podcast research has confirmed, is that math is absolutely everywhere! You just need to look closely.

You can stream the podcast on our website or download it from iTunes. I'm also a co-editor and semi-monthly contributor to the American Mathematical Society's Blog on Math Blogs, where I write about recent goings-on in the mathematical blogosphere — anything from big advances in research to discussions on pedagogy and mathematical haikus. I also love to tweet about math @extremefriday.

Future plans

Get tenure! Engaging with math through the podcast and blog has been a really great counterpoint to my research life. Lately I've been spending a lot of time on the computational aspects of lattices, trying to build up a structured database of these objects — kind of like the periodic table of elements, but for math. Sometimes mathematical research can be hard — so hard that I start to forget why I'm doing it at all. But engaging with the online math-and-media community is always a wonderful and welcome reminder of why math is so important to me.

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