Conant prize winner to lecture on math, climate change

MIT professor Daniel Rothman will speak on “Earth’s Carbon Cycle: A Mathematical Perspective” 

The Levi L. Conant Lecture, which celebrate winners of the American Mathematical Society (AMS) Levi L. Conant prize, has special ties to WPI.

Conant was a mathematician and faculty member; he headed the Mathematical Sciences Department, and even served as an interim president of WPI in the early 1900s. His estate had money earmarked to fund the AMS after his wife’s death. The Levi L. Conant prize of $1,000 was established in 2000 to recognize the best expository paper over the past five-year period in either the Bulletin of AMS or the Notices of the AMS.

Mathematics skills and exemplary expository talents often go hand in hand, says Luca Capogna, a professor and head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

“After the awardees for a given year are selected by the AMS, we invite them to deliver a public lecture,” he says, bringing national mathematics experts to campus.

Climate science expert

Friday's lecture will be presented by 2016 awardee Daniel H. Rothman, a professor of geophysics and co-founder of MIT's Lorenz Center, a facility dedicated to the study of climate science. 

daniel rothman MIT
MIT Professor Daniel Rothman

​Rothman will speak on “Earth’s Carbon Cycle: A Mathematical Perspective,” detailing observational data that shows that the carbon cycle has a mathematical structure behind it.

“Mathematics can be used to make models of real-life systems,” says Capogna. “Mathematics allows us, as human beings, to understand in a quantitative way the complex systems that can occur in nature, as well as forecasting their future behavior.” This forecasting can concern not only climate, but also causes of mass extinction or the stability of the Earth, among other areas. 

The talk—traditionally attended by AMS members as well as the WPI community and others—looks at the emerging evidence of global dynamical coupling between life and the environment, and of how smaller-scale processes determine the strength of that coupling.

Broad audience appeal

Capogna urges members of the community, as well as WPI students from any discipline, to attend the presentation.

“We always ask the Conant speakers to make their presentations accessible to the general public; everyone can get something out of it,” Capogna says. “Dr. Rothman is from the MIT Department of Geophysics, so in the presentation there will be a bit of math, as well as some physics, chemistry, and biology. This is ideal for a place such as WPI, with a tradition of excellence in interdisciplinary research.”

Daniel Rothman’s lecture will be held in Salisbury Labs, Room 100, on Friday, Sept. 23, at 4 p.m. Refreshments will be available before the lecture, and attendees may meet the speaker afterward.

- By Susan Shalhoub