Students and visitors gathered at the Tracy Hall Science Center at Weber State University on Mar. 14 to celebrate Pi Day.
The event featured a seminar hosted by WSU’s mathematics department, dedicated to celebrate the famed mathematical constant and the accomplishments made by three distinguished female mathematicians.
Dr. Afshin Ghoreishi, professor of mathematics at WSU, hosted the event. He believes it is important to create opportunities for those who are passionate about their fields. As a faculty advisor for the math department, he strives to help students find their passions and succeed.
“Diversity matters,” Ghoreishi said. “We want to give everyone the opportunity to excel at whatever they like.”
The seminar highlighted mathematicians Julia Robinson, Katherine Johnson and Maryam Mirzakhani. Three students created presentations that highlighted the mathematicians’ early lives and achievements.
Emily Grotepas delivered the presentation about Robinson’s career. Grotepas highlighted Robinson’s mathematic achievements in grade school, even after being bedridden for a year due to rheumatic fever.
Robinson is known for her contributions in decision problems in complexity theory and her 30-year long study of Hilbert’s tenth problem regarding diophantine equations. She became the president of the American Mathematical Society and was the first woman to hold the position.
Following Grotepas’ presentation, Alexandria Kohler began her presentation about Johnson. Johnson is most notable for her work at NASA, calculating the trajectories for many of NASA’s space missions, including Alan Shepard’s first orbital flight and Apollo 11’s mission to the moon in 1969.
Kohler recognized Johnson’s accuracy in her calculations in celestial navigation and her contributions to the early application of computers at NASA.
Johnson faced adversity during the 1960s, since women and African-Americans struggled to enter the research mathematics field. In 2015, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions to space science and technology.
The seminar concluded with a presentation by Alexis Wilding about Maryam Mirzakhani. Originally aspiring to be a writer, Mirzakhani found a love for mathematics.
She was the first woman from Iran to compete in the International Math Olympiad and was the first woman to be honored with the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics. She died in July 2017, after a three-year long battle with breast cancer.
Mike Simpson, a mathematics and physics major at WSU, was intrigued by the presentations at the seminar. As an active participant in mathematics in his career, Simpson has noticed the lack of diversity at his job.
“I don’t see a lot of minorities or diversity in math, maybe one or two,” Simpson said. “There should be more.”
Simpson also believed that recognizing mathematicians who succeed while facing adversity is important, as it can inspire others to strive for success with what they want to do.