WORCESTER, Mass. – Jeffrey Weeks, an independent scholar in mathematics, will deliver the inaugural Levi Conant Lecture at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) on Monday, March 24, at 3 p.m., in Olin Hall Room 107. The talk, “The Shape of Space,” is designed to be understood and enjoyed by a broad audience, from middle school age on.
The lecture series is named for Levi L. Conant, a mathematician and educator who spent most of his career on the WPI faculty. He was head of the mathematics department from 1908 until his death in 1916, and served as interim WPI president from 1911 to 1913. An outstanding teacher and active scholar, he published several articles in scientific journals and four textbooks. Upon his death, a large bequest was made to the American Mathematical Society, which established the Levi L. Conant Prize, awarded annually to recognize the best expository paper published in either Notices of the AMS or the Bulletin of the AMS during the previous five years.
Jeffrey Weeks received the 2007 Conant Prize for his article "The Poincaré Dodecahedral Space and the Mystery of the Missing Fluctuations," published in Notices of the AMS in 2004. In that article, together with a 1998 article, "Measuring the Space of the Universe," he explained how extremely sensitive measurements of microwave radiation across the sky provide information about the origins and shape of the universe. He also discussed the shapes our universe might take: spherical, Euclidean, or a hyperbolic 3-manifold.
His prize citation noted, “"Weeks has explained the mathematics behind models whose validity cosmologists debate while waiting for more experimental evidence....Weeks has given a rare glimpse into the role of mathematics in the development and testing of physical theories.”
Weeks received a MacArthur "genius" fellowship in 1999 and now works as a freelance mathematician. He is well known for his geometry and topology software, and for his work in cosmology.
In his lecture, Weeks will note that while the universe may seem infinite, that infinity may be an illusion. He will use computer games to introduce the concept of a multi-connected universe. He will then use interactive 3D graphics to demonstrate several possible shapes for space, and show how recent satellite data provide tantalizing clues to the true shape of our universe.