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Harvard’s Noam D. Elkies Visits MSU to Discuss Mathematics and Music

Elkies teaching piano

Noam D. Elkies is a professor of mathematics at Harvard and the youngest person ever tenured at the university. His research on elliptic curves, lattices, and other aspects of the theory of numbers has been recognized by such prizes and awards as the Presidential Young Investigator Award of the National Science Foundation and the Prix Peccot of the College de France. His work in mathematical exposition and teaching was recognized by awards from the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America, and Harvard’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. He currently holds several records for ranks of elliptic curves and related Diophantine questions.

Elkies provided two lectures during his visit to Michigan State University, one entitled “Canonical Forms: A Mathematician’s View of Musical Canons” on Dec. 10 at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB), and “Mathematics Colloquium” on Dec. 13 at Wells Hall. On Dec. 14, Elkies and MSU’s Young Hyun Cho welcomed the public to a piano recital hosted at FRIB.

Canonical Forms: A Mathematician’s View of Musical Canons

In a musical canon—be it “Three Blind Mice” or the climax of a Bach fugue—a melody can act as its own harmony. The task of finding such melodies leads us to consider musical structure from points of view usually associated with science and mathematics, not the arts. The lecture will be illustrated with diagrams as well as a variety of musical examples (including at least one improvised in real time) and will require no technical background in either music or mathematics.

Mathematics Colloquium

Piano Recital with Young Hyun Cho and Noam Elkies

Young Hyun Cho is currently an associate professor of piano at MSU. Prior to this she was an associate professor of piano at the University of Texas at Arlington. She received her doctor of musical arts degree from the Eastman School of Music, her master’s degree and graduate performance diploma from Peabody Conservatory, and her bachelor’s degree from Seoul National University.

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