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Carleton’s Annual Chesley Lectureship Highlights the Work of Acclaimed Mathematician James Propp

November 4, 2013
By Ben Strauss '16

Carleton College announces its 2013-14 Frank G. and Jean M. Chesley Lectureship, to be delivered by acclaimed mathematician James Propp, a researcher and professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The lectureship features two public presentations: “Wild Beauty: Postcards from Mathematical Worlds” on Monday, Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Olin Hall 149 and “Quasi-Random Processes” on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m. in Olin Hall 141. Both talks are free and open to the public.

In high school, Propp was one of the national winners of the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad (USAMO); he often times credits that experience as his inspiration for becoming a math professor. Propp majored in math at Harvard, later earning his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley. Propp has taught at Berkeley, Brandeis, Harvard, M.I.T., and the University of Wisconsin Madison, in addition to the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

His research is at the boundary between combinatorics, probability theory, and dynamical systems theory. Propp refers to combinatorics, a branch of mathematics that deals with the ways you can combine certain numbers of objects, such as how many combinations of five cards you can deal from a 52-card deck, as his “first love…. It is just something you can think about almost in a spirit of play,” he says. 

Propp's research is highly visual in nature, and computer-generated imagery often plays a significant role in his projects. He is both fascinated and repelled by randomness, and the tension between determinacy and randomness plays itself out in his work in numerous ways. In addition to discovering new mathematics and teaching "old" mathematics, Propp enjoys creating mathematical puzzles, one of which (his Self-Referential Aptitude Test) has been extensively circulated over the Internet over the past two decades. 

Propp is also known for creating collaborative research groups that bring together undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty.   

This event is supported by the Chesley Lectureship, made possible by a gift to Carleton’s endowment by Frank '36 and Jean '37 Chesley of Red Wing, Minnesota, in order to bring to the College outstanding scholar-teachers from selected disciplines for a series of classes, public lectures, faculty seminars and meetings with students.

This event is sponsored by the Carleton College Department of Mathematics. For further information and disability accommodations, call (507) 222-4360. Olin Hall can be found on the Carleton Campus map at