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Mathematician Will Base Bernard Lecture on Baseball Records

By Tim Cook '04

September 28, 2001
Contact: Bill Giduz 704/894-2244 or bigiduz@davidson.edu

Carl Pomerance
Carl Pomerance

Mathematician and University of Georgia Professor Carl Pomerance, a number theorist well known for his accessible lectures, will speak at Davidson College on Wednesday, October 3, about "Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Paul Erdös, and Me."

His talk, presented as the college's 2001 Bernard Lecture, will begin at 8 p.m. in the C. Shaw Smith 900 Room of the Alvarez College Union. Admission is free.

Pomerance will make observations about some historic numbers in baseball, and reach through them into the mathematics involved in expressing numbers as sums of primes.

Primes are the fundamental building blocks of integers, since every integer may be written as a product of primes. In fact, the secrets of the integers lie in the primes even more than the secrets of chemistry lie in the periodic table, or the secrets of physics in the theory of the atom. For instance, there are infinitely many primes, and mathematicians can qualitatively describe their frequency, but detailed answers to many elementary questions about primes prove elusive.

The title of Pomerance's lecture refers to Atlanta Brave baseball player Hank Aaron, and his 715th career home run on April 8, 1974. That homer surpassed Babe Ruth's record of 714, which had been considered impregnable. (Aaron went on to record a total of 755 during his 23-year career.)

Based on Aaron's feat, Pomerance and several colleagues wrote a humorous paper about the interesting properties of the numbers, 714 and 715. After publication, the late world-famous mathematician Paul Erdös contacted Pomerance, and the two solved one of the problems discussed in the paper. They found that it was unusual for the sum of the prime factors of a number to be equal to the sum of the prime factors of one more than the number.

Pomerance received his B.A. from Brown University in 1966 and Ph.D. from Harvard in 1972. He joined the faculty at University of Georgia that year, and remained on its faculty until his recent retirement. He has also been a visiting professor at several institutions, including the University of Illinois, Universite de Limoges, and Bell Communications Research. Pomerance now works at the Bell Labs division of Lucent Technologies.

Davidson's Bernard Society was founded in memory of the late mathematics professor Richard Bernard, and promotes the enjoyment of mathematics at the college. In addition to the annual Bernard Lecture, the society sponsors math coffees and departmental picnics. For more information on Pomerance's talk at Davidson call the math department at 704-894-2315.

Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,600 students. Since its establishment in 1837, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine. Davidson is currently engaged in "Let Learning Be Cherished," a $250 million campaign in support of student financial assistance, academic resources, and community life.

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