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Tech Q&A

Edward Burger

Describe your latest project.
I am just completing my sixth book entitled Extending the Frontiers of Mathematics: Inquiries into Proof and Argumentation. It invites readers to experience the art of mathematical discovery. I am also writing and starring in a series of entertaining mathematics videos produced by This is the seventh such video series we've produced. In addition I am the research advisor for four undergraduate students — two from Williams College, one from Columbia University, and one from Harvey Mudd College. These terrific students have made some exciting mathematical breakthroughs and have discovered new theorems in number theory. Finally, I am beginning a book project on how to be a more creative and original thinker. I believe that having lots of different irons in the fire is exciting and great fun — unless you get too close to the flame while wearing polyester.

Describe your favorite childhood teacher and how that teacher influenced you.
Mrs. Jensen was a small woman who was the strictest teacher I ever had. I studied geometry and pre-calculus with her and thought she was amazing. She made mathematics intriguing and her explanations were crystal clear. Her teaching style heavily influenced who I am in the classroom today. Mrs. Metzler taught me calculus in twelfth grade and I adored her. She would describe some abstract mathematical idea and it would instantly make perfect sense in my head. I never studied in that class — it was the first and only time I've ever enjoyed that decadent luxury. When I teach now, I try to make the ideas at hand come to life for my students just as Mrs. Metzler brought calculus to life for me. I am a research mathematician and professor due, in large part, to these two individuals. They touched my life — and touching students' lives should be the paramount goal of any teacher.

Have you taken the Geek Test? If so, what was your score?
Yes, just now for you! My rank was 9.27022% — "Geekish Tendencies." Sounds about right... not bad for a "hip" math professor, don't you think?

What do you do for relaxation?
Exercise, read biographies and Harry Potter, watch way too much bad television (I'm addicted to TiVo), and play as much No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em poker as I can.

Douglas Adams or Scott Adams?
I'm slighted offended and dismayed that Don Adams is not an option.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It remains one of my favorites and I believe that everyone should reread it every couple of years. It's short, sweet, and has all the answers to life.

What new technology do you think may actually have the potential for making people's lives better?
That's easy: A cell phone that can brew cappuccino (with caller ID).

If you could be reincarnated for one day to live the life of any scientist or writer, who would you choose and why?
Two leap to mind. Either a Pythagorean in ancient Greece the moment they discovered that that square root of two is an irrational number (a number that cannot be written as the quotient of two whole numbers) — a result that many claim has one of the most elegant justifications. Or Isaac Newton on the day he had his insight that led to calculus. It would be exciting to live through the evolution of those wildly original ideas that changed the course of mathematics, physics, and our basic understanding of our world. (Also, I've never worn a big wig and perhaps I'd look good in one).

What are some of the things you'd like your computer to do that it cannot now do?
Automatically respond to my e-mail.

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