Eighteenth annual lecturer award honors math professor

BY MARIE VEILLETTE — veillettema@mnstate.edu

To infinity and beyond — not only the title of Dr. Adam Goyt’s lecture last Thursday, but also how far he inspires his students to go.

Goyt’s lecture, fully titled “To Infinity and Beyond: Infinity in Culture, Science and Art” was given to an overflowing lecture hall of students, faculty and community members.

In order to be considered for the Dille Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award, a recipient must meet four criteria: they must be tenured, respected by students and peers, develop stimulating ideas, and be an effective communicator.

Mathematics senior Josiah Reiswig said Goyt is deserving of the honor.

“He always has time for students to answer questions,” he said. “He’s very enthusiastic about what he’s teaching.”

Reiswig described Goyt’s dedication to students and said he was even “willing to change how class went to fit student interests” when a student outside of mathematics took one of his courses.

Goyt is known for the quick pace of his classes, but also for his enthralling lectures.

“He’s a very engaging lecturer,” Reiswig said. “He has an ability to communicate mathematical topics in a way that’s accessible to people who don’t have an interest in math.”

Thursday night’s lecture focused on the concept of infinity. Though it’s a complex concept to grasp, Goyt proved his strength of effective communication, keeping the audience interested to the end.

Defining what culture, science and art mean, Goyt set up the basis of his lecture. He said culture is “the social fabric around us” and helps to “move through the world with ease.” Similarly, he said science makes life easier with technology like medical devices and cell phones. Together, culture and science “keep us alive.”

But what exactly are we staying alive for? Goyt said this is where art comes in.

“Art has captured the beauty of our world,” he said. “Art is why we live.”

Having defined the three main concepts of his lecture, Goyt moved on to the largest idea he would present that night: Infinity.

“Infinity is a goal we move toward,” he said. “It is so large we can’t hold or comprehend it.”

Even though infinity is too vast to fully understand, Goyt said the concept can be found everywhere.

One place he pointed was infinity in faiths. The idea of infinity can be found in most theistic religions.

For example, in Judaism, the name for god is Yahweh. Translated, it means “I was, I am, I will be” inferring the god has existed and will continue to exist for infinity.

“That’s a concept that doesn’t fit in the finite world in which we live,” Goyt said.

He explained the Banach Tarski Paradox, a theorem that states it is possible to take a geometric object, cut it into pieces and reassemble those pieces into two identical copies of the original. The object could be duplicated by cutting the original into as little as five pieces, but cutting it infinite times would yield even more copies.

Goyt said it is impossible to make infinite small cuts, but he related the theorem back to infinity in faith. Even though humans lack the technology to make such small cuts, it’s the idea that “maybe there are beings who can,” Goyt said.

He reminded the audience of the well-known tale of Jesus multiplying loaves of bread and fish to feed a hungry crowd.

After explaining infinity and some related ideas, Goyt concluded his lecture by tying together art and infinity.

The Julia set is different sequences of numbers derived from a common equation, he said. Though the sets may just look like numbers on a page, they become art when generated by a computer. When French professor Gaston Julia made his discovery, there were no computers to generate the image.

“He had no idea how beautiful his idea was going to be,” Goyt said.

So how does the Julia set relate to infinity? Zooming in on the tiniest detail of the image called a fractal reveals an exact copy of the original. Continuing to zoom in infinite times would reveal the same picture each time.

“It is, from a mathematical perspective, the most beautiful creature,” Goyt said.

At the end of the lecture, Goyt said he was honored to have received the Dille Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award and was grateful for the support and attendance of everyone in the audience.

“Thank you times infinity,” he said.

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