Weekly Wednesday Wisdom — With Wit ;)

I’ve decided that every Wednesday I’ll feature a S.T.E.A.M.-relevant cartoon.

a 6-for-1 cartoon :)

a 6-for-1 cartoon 🙂

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The Futurama Theorem

Only once in the history of television has a mathematical theorem been created for the sole purpose of entertainment. The series was “Futurama,” the theorem, the aptly named “Futurama Theorem,” and its creator was show writer Dr. Ken Keeler, Ph.D. The doctorate held by Keeler is in applied mathematics, (didn’t I tell you in my previous post that Matt Groening’s writers rooms are simply mobbed by multitudes of mathematical minds?).

In season seven, episode ten, “The Prisoner of Benda,” Dr. Farnsworth and Amy create a device that permits a pair of people to trade minds with each other. The catch? The mind-switching machine will only allow the same two people to exchange minds once. Chaos and hilarity ensues as minds are passed from body to body. It eventually requires the “funky mathematics” of the Harlem Globetrotters, (they’re aliens from another planet, didn’t you know?) to remedy the situation. The theorem employed by the extra-terrestrial-trotters is as follows:

The Futurama Theorem, by Dr. Ken Keeler, as presented by the extra-terrestrial Harlem Globetrotters

The Futurama Theorem, by Dr. Ken Keeler, as presented by the Harlem Globetrotters

It’s all Greek to me. In fact, I can pick out a Greek letter or two within that incomprehensible jumble. A better person than I provided it in layman’s terms:

Step 1: Have everybody who’s messed up arrange themselves in circles, each facing the body their mind should land in (e.g., if Fry’s mind is in Zoidberg’s body, then the Zoidberg body should face the Fry body).

Step 2: Go get two “fresh” (as of yet never mind-swapped) people. Let’s call them Helper A and Helper B.

Step 3: Fix the circles one by one as follows:

3.0) Start each time with Helper A and Helper B’s minds in either their own or each other’s bodies

3.1) Pick any circle of messed-up people you like and unwrap it into a line with whoever you like at the front

3.2) Swap the mind at the front of the line into Helper A’s body

3.3) From back to front, have everybody in the line swap minds with Helper B’s body in turn. (This moves each mind in the line, apart from the front one, forward into the right body)

3.4) Swap the mind in Helper A’s body back where it belongs, into the body at the back of the line. Now the circle/line has been completely fixed. The one side effect is that for each time a circle is fixed, the Helpers’ minds will switch places, but that’s OK, see below

Step 4: At the very end, after all the circles have been fixed, mind-swap the two Helpers if necessary (i.e., in case there was originally an odd number of messed-up circles)

In the words of Jesse Pinkman…

The Hidden Mathematics of “The Simpsons”

I’ve written before in my first post about how studying the sciences can lead to unexpected career choices – did you know that Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” is a chemistry major? – and I’d like to continue with that theme. Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” has stocked the writers rooms of both those shows with mathematicians, (what is it about science and math that seems to lend itself to comedy, I wonder?) and they never miss an opportunity to slip in a mathematical joke or use their expertise to the show’s advantage.

Al Jean, head writer of “The Simpsons,” graduated from Harvard at the tender age of 20. Upon securing his job at “The Simpsons,” he proceeded to acquire as many math geeks as he could to fill the writers room. This is reflected in the third act of “Treehouse of Horror VI” when Homer Simpson enters the third dimension.

As Mr. Simpson wanders the strange plane of polygons and equations floating through the 3D space, there appears to be an equation that, incredibly, disproves Fermat’s Last Theorem, (that no three positive integers can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two).

If one were to plug the numbers of the equation drifting behind Mr. Simpson into an ordinary calculator, it would, indeed, appear to negate Fermat’s Last Theorem. Are we to believe that a gaggle of comedy writers solved an equation that has baffled mathematical minds for 400 years?

Alas, that is not the case.

If one were to use a scientific calculator to investigate the equation, you’ll find that that answer is off by 0.00000004. Close, Mr. Simpson, but no cigar.

In the episode “Marge and Homer Turn a Couple Play,” on the jumbo screen at an Isotopes game, the fans are asked to guess the night’s attendance. The options are 8,191; 8,128; 8,208.

These three choices are anything but random; they represent a prime number, (a number with no positive divisors other than one and itself) a perfect number, (one whose divisors add up to itself) and a narcissistic number, (one where it is the sum of its own digits each raised to the power of the number of digits).

Tomorrow: the hidden mathematics of “Futurama.”

The Association of Women in Forensic Science

The Association of Women in Forensic Science, Inc. (AWIFS) is a volunteer run 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in the city of Philadelphia that provides networking opportunities and programs for female forensic professionals, teenagers and college students

The Association of Women in Forensic Science, Inc. (AWIFS) is a non-profit that provides networking opportunities and programs for female forensic professionals, teenagers and college students

Project S.T.E.A.M. TV held its first annual Future Producers Award Summit this past Saturday, May 9th. Roughly 40 students and parents attended the four-hour event that featured representatives for each letter in the S.T.E.A.M. acronym, scientific demonstrations and activities, a performance by local dance group, Face Da Phlave, a panelist of S.T.E.A.M. experts, and a key-note speech by Philadelphia Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. The day was hosted by the lovely and vivacious Amanda Decker, whose energy and enthusiasm were as infectious as they were palpable.

The “S” in the S.T.E.A.M. acronym was represented by the Association of Women in Forensic Science. AWIFS’ booth had attendees don gloves and goggles, then engage in some simple forensic experiments. AWIFS is a Philadelphia non-profit that provides networking and mentoring opportunities to high school and college students with a passion for forensic science. While AWIFS’ services are available to any young person interested, their focus is on ensuring that women are better represented in the field and that they are offered specific encouragement and advice from other female scientists.

the future of American forensic science

the future of American forensic science

First Annual Future Producers Award Summit

Project S.T.E.A.M. TV held its first annual Future Producers Award Summit this past Saturday, May 9th. Roughly 40 students and parents attended the four-hour event that featured representatives for each letter in the S.T.E.A.M. acronym, scientific demonstrations and activities, a performance by local dance group, Face Da Phlave, a panelist of S.T.E.A.M. experts, and a key-note speech by Philadelphia Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. The day was hosted by the lovely and vivacious Amanda Decker, whose energy and enthusiasm were as infectious as they were palpable.

Councilwoman Brown encouraged the students in attendance to always persevere with their schoolwork, “even when it’s boring.” She explained that the purpose of education is not simply to memorize and regurgitate facts, but to learn how to learn. I’ve never personally required geometry in my day-to-day life, but my struggle to comprehend and apply the formulas, the honing of effective study habits, and even coming to terms with a disappointing grade, molded me into the young woman I am today. You could say I was shaped by geometry – pun definitely intended! ^_^

I’ll be posting photos and anecdotes from this weekend for the next several days, but tonight I’ll simply whet my readers’ appetites with a couple photos of my boyfriend, Ben, and me sporting matching temporary tattoos from Saturday. Ben came along to volunteer at the event, helping out at the Youth Engineering & Science booth, and was offered a job by Y.E.S. director and teacher, Kathy Walsh. Ben hopes to spend the summer teaching filmmaking to campers. Y.E.S. is a wonderful institution dedicated to “promot[ing] an understanding and an interest in science and engineering for traditionally underserved and under-represented youth.” Ben is eager to pass on over a decade of experience.

Ben and me outside his South Philly home, proudly sporting our matching temporary tattoos from this weekend's event

Ben and me outside his South Philly home, proudly sporting our matching temporary tattoos from this weekend’s event

a close-up of our

a close-up of our “love science” tats

Be sure to check back here in the days to come for more about Project S.T.E.A.M. TV’s first annual Future Producers Award Summit.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson on “The Daily Show”

Chemistry can lead to some unexpected careers. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson gave a spectacular interview with Daily Show host Jon Stewart on the 23rd of April about his jump from radio to television with his series “Star Talk.” Tyson revealed to the audience that Stewart had in fact majored in chemistry in college, with Stewart adding that his favorite element is carbon, the “slut of the periodic table,” (because it hooks up with so many other elements).

Stewart throws up two Cs to represent Carbon

Stewart throws up two Cs to represent Carbon

Stewart also had his guest weigh in on a debate that has been waging for decades: who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman? With a chuckle, Tyson immediately endorsed Batman, going on to explain, “At the end of the day, what might matter is the public perception of the superhero and the superhero’s conduct.” While Batman reports to Commissioner Gordon, Superman answers to no Earthly authority. So there you have, straight from the renowned director of the Hayden Planetarium — Batman may not possess the supernatural abilities of Superman, but he is a superhero of the people and for the people.

Stewarts antics amuse Dr. Tyson

Stewart’s antics amuse Dr. Tyson

Stewart then asked about Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s new television series, “Star Talk,” which recently made the jump from radio to the National Geographic Channel. Tyson replied, “‘Star Talk’ is about getting people hewn from pop culture and exploring all the ways science has mattered in their lives.” Sounds like a worthy goal, and one shared by Project S.T.E.A.M.

“Star Talk” airs on the National Geographic Channel, Mondays at 11 pm.

Dr. Tyson and Stewart engaged in witty banter

Dr. Tyson and Stewart engaged in witty banter

Watch Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s interview with John Stewart

More on the new “Star Talk” television series

“We only enter the future on the intellectual capital brought to this world by the ‘Geek-o-Sphere!” — Neil DeGrasse Tyson