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Does Dos Plus Dos Still Equal Cuatro?

Westminster Student asks,

"Does Dos Plus Dos Still Equal Cuatro?"

By Jennifer Rose

Is math different in Puerto Rico than in the United States? Dos plus dos still equals cuatro. But aside from language, math took on a whole new meaning for Westminster math major Jamie Bailey ('03) when she spent six weeks participating in the Summer Institute in Mathematics for Undergraduates (SIMU) held at the University of Puerto Rico-Humacao. Jamie became aware of math research opportunities through her professors and fellow students at Westminster. "I'd never even thought about doing a research project," she said.

SIMU, funded by the National Science Foundation, offers undergraduates like Jamie an opportunity to discover the challenges, frustrations, and excitement of research. Chicano/Latino and Native American undergraduates who have completed at least two years of university-level mathematics courses compete for the opportunity to immerse themselves in research.

Depending on their mathematical backgrounds, the 24 students from all over the United States and Puerto Rico were placed in one of two seminars computation and integration. Jamie was in the computation seminar, which involved mathematical biology. "For the first three weeks we studied what we needed to know for our projects, which was fluid dynamics&we prepared so that when we did our project we could understand the math behind it," Jamie said. "Westminster prepared me well for the math, and the way Physics 211-212 was taught gave me some problem-solving practice."

The last three weeks, the students divided into groups to work on research projects. Jamie worked with two other students, one from Los Angeles Valley College and one from Boston University. The group focused on mathematical biology and chose to create a computer simulation of a fish fin. "We had to get the fin to move like a fish," Jamie said. "To do so we had to understand how to model a fish fin and then how to apply the forces to make it move." Though SIMU participants are accomplished students Jamie admits, "we had a lot of problems, like the fish crumpling up and floating. Originally it was like a flying carpet. There was a lot of trial and error. We had to create new files and change the program. But, the big issue was dealing with constants and finding the relationships. Our fish started moving backward instead of forward."

While preparing for their final presentation, the team discovered that their tenacity had paid off. Their wayward fish fin wasn't so wayward after all. "We were showing our movies to our professor, and he said, 'You've got it. Everything is in place. Just change the direction.'" The group was now motivated and encouraged.

Two months after returning home, Jamie and her research colleagues gave a poster presentation at a Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans. And for smart mathematics students like Jamie the whole experience seems to make her future mushroom. In January 2003, Jamie attended a Joint Mathematics Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. And now this enthusiastic young researcher is eyeing graduate schools and applying for fellowships. All this from a few conversations at Westminster!

Though SIMU is over and the group's members are apart they continue working on their project trying to get that fish fin to move correctly. They research individually and keep in touch through e-mail. "Math research is never done. There's just a point where you stop," Jamie said.

But the group still isn't done they're hooked. "We still want our fin to move forward, and we want it to move symmetrically. Currently it's asymmetric. It's moving at an angle, which is not bad per se, but fish usually want to swim straight" as does Jamie Bailey.

Jennifer Rose is a copy editor in Westminster College's Communication Office.