'Mathemagician' Adds to the Pi Day Experience for Students

Category:  News
Thursday, March 24th, 2016 at 8:19 AM
'Mathemagician' Adds to the Pi Day Experience for Students  by Dakota Palmer
The ‘Mathemagician’ Dr. Arthur Benjamin has been a professor of mathematics since 1989, and has published several books on mathematics.

A Cleveland native, Dr. Arthur Benjamin, received his Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Mathematics from Carnegie University. He eventually received his doctoral degree from Johns Hopkins University. He has been teaching at Harvey Mudd College for 27 years.

Last Monday, Benjamin, who doubles as a magician, performed his presentation titled “The Beauty and Magic of Mathematics.” This event served as the keynote address for Edinboro’s eighth annual celebration of National Pi Day, which was sponsored by the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. Many high school students attended Benjamin’s first performance.

Benjamin said that he has been a “mathemagician” since he began college in 1979.

“I choose to combine math and magic because they are two natural loves of mine. People were entertained by both, and I love to entertain people,” Benjamin said.

His performance, given at two different times in the Louis C. Cole Auditorium, first amazed audiences when he quickly added up all numbers between 1 and 100 in his head. After, he provided an explanation for this, stating that if he created two groups of numbers 1 to 50 and 51 to 100, he could add the pairs to get 101. For example: 1 plus 100 equals 101; 2 plus 99 is 101 and so on. After that, multiply 50 and 101 and you reach your answer: 5050.

Next, Benjamin taught the audience various math tricks, such as how to find the sum of the first 100 odd numbers, how to find the sums of cubes and how to quickly use mental math to multiply three digit numbers.

Eventually, Benjamin had the audience pull out their calculators to confirm he gave the correct answers after squaring three digit numbers in his head. He gave answers to each equation in less than 10 seconds while the hundreds of local high school students watched in awe.

Perhaps the most impressive of all of Benjamin’s tricks was when he asked random members of the audience to yell out their birthdays. Once they did, he would almost immediately respond with what day of the week that person was born on. He said that he uses molecular algebra to find out what day of the week any date is.

In the middle of his performance, Benjamin said, “Mathematics is not just solving for ‘x,’ it’s also figuring out why.”

“A magician wants an ‘oooh’ or ‘ah’ response when they do tricks; a mathematician wants a ‘cool’ or ‘why’ response,” said Benjamin.

Benjamin knows approximately 100 digits of pi and uses a phonetic code to memorize the numbers. His phonetic code does not contain vowels, so he can easily make up phrases that will help him remember the digits of pi.

His advice for young mathematicians is to “takes as many statistics courses as you can. There is a growing data demand, as well as a demand for computer science and mathematical rigor.”

His favorite part is explaining his methods to his audiences. “People can learn how to improve their ability with math themselves. It’s about showing them how smart they can be, not how smart I am.”

Dakota Palmer is the Online Editor for The Spectator.

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