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Intellect

We owe much to calculus, says distinguished faculty lecturer

Calculus has touched everyone's lives to some degree, said Dr. Kening Lu, Brigham Young University's Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecturer and professor of mathematics, at Tuesday's forum in the Marriott Center.

"Calculus is absolutely vital to mathematical modeling of food webs in ecology, weather forecasting in meteorology, global warming simulation in climatology, and infectious disease simulation, prediction and intervention in epidemiology," Lu said. "All have important implications for mankind's immediate and future well-being."

Lu framed his remarks with the history of calculus, beginning with the Babylonians in 2000 BC. The Babylonians used well-developed algebra, which led to the development of geometry in Egypt and Greece around 600 BC.

In the third century BC, Euclid wrote the first basic mathematic textbook, which still influences textbooks and education today. The study of mathematics continued to expand, and in the 17th century, the foundation for modern calculus was set by René Descartes and further developed by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Liebniz.

Albert Einstein later used calculus to develop his theory of special and general relativity, which led to the big bang theory, the black hole theory, and modern cosmology in general.

Lu pointed out that quantum mechanics is formulated in terms of calculus, and without it, we wouldn't have TVs, computers, iPods, cell phones, or CD players.

Lu encouraged those who believe calculus isn't relevant to their field of study to stay tuned to new scientific discoveries.

"If history is a reliable guide, such discoveries will be made with calculus being used directly or indirectly as one of the most fundamental tools," he said. "The field of human inquiry that is opened up by calculus is huge and the applications of calculus are endless."

Lu noted that calculus will be studied the same 20, 100, or even 1,000 years from now. Scientists used calculus to land on the moon and to send the Exploration Rover to Mars, and, in the future, calculus will be used to travel to another star system.

"Calculus is truly a body of knowledge that will last as long as human civilization will," Lu said.

Finally, Lu encouraged students to never stop asking why, a question that has driven the study of mathematics.

"Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why, and the rest has been an unprecedented scientific and technological revolution in the history of mankind," Lu said.

Writer: Alexis Plowman

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Photo by Photograph by Peter Rugh, courtesy Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

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