February 18, 2020

Labs to help SIU students think differently about math

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale students will have the chance to think outside the box about math starting this week with a new series of customized “labs” from the mathematics faculty.

Mathematics faculty were awarded an SIU Foundation grant for the creation of Math-Stat Labs. Organizers have planned an inaugural event at 4 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 20, in Neckers Room 156.  Gary Kinsel, interim vice chancellor of research, and Scott Ishman, interim dean of the College of Science, will address students majoring in mathematics to inspire them to participate. All students who are interested in participating are encouraged to attend.

The labs will encourage students, freshman and up, to mathematically explore issues and think out-of-the-box, using a hands-on approach that goes beyond the typical classroom instructions, said Bhaskar Bhattacharya, professor and chair of the mathematics department.

“They will further discover applications of the material they learn, unify different concepts and participate in hands-on activities with or without using computers,” Bhattacharya said.

The two-year project features five different labs or projects. Participating students will be able to talk with professors and choose a project of their liking. They can also suggest their own project. They can take many labs over different semesters.

“It’s not a class but an activity or project, and the content is streamlined for each student,” Bhattacharya said.

The five labs, with a brief description of each, include:

  • SANE (Symbolic & Numerical Experimentation) – Led by Jianhong Xu, professor of mathematics. This lab deals in simulations. Students will be able to "see" how a formula/method work in visual graphs/pictures.
  • Saluki Analytics Lab – Led by Wesley Calvert, associate professor of mathematics. The lab addresses real data analysis. Students will work with data from organizations such as Ameren Illinois, Southern Illinois Healthcare (SIH), and the Carbondale Women’s Center to investigate the answers in the data.
  • Geometers’ Den – Led by Jerzy Kocik, associate professor of mathematics. The lab will work with geometrical shapes and investigate its connections with math using examples such as origami, or other physical constructions.
  • Design-Based Activities Lab – Led by Lingguo Bu, associate professor of curriculum and instruction. The lab will teach students to take a design from paper to reality using the underlying math involved.
  • Virtual Reality Lab – Led by Mike Sullivan, professor of mathematics, students will use virtual reality glasses to actually “see” math curves in 3-D, and then manipulate them for fun.

The labs will allow students to explore how mathematics is used in the real world, possibly opening new career paths for them to explore.

“The labs will give students experience acting – effectively as consultants – in a role very similar to one in which they could reasonably hope to be hired after graduating,” Bhattacharya said.