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Texas A&M University

2024 Sue Geller Undergraduate Lecture

March 27, Wednesday, 6pm, BLOC 117

Reception starts at 5:30pm

Photo of Persi Disconis

Persi Diaconis

Mary V. Suseri Professor of Statistics and Mathematics
Stanford University

will present


Abstract:   People play 'ordinary solitaire' (Klondike) millions of times a day. Yet we mathematicians can't figure out 'what is the chance of winning?' 'how to play well' Indeed, even the chess and go playing programs alpha zero can't answer these questions (thank goodness, there are some things the computer can't (yet) do). I'll introduce an easier solitaire where we can figue things out. The math involved is some of the deepest of the past 50 years. It has application to the way fire burns and the rings left by coffee cups. AND of course, it's beautiful in its own right. I'll try to explain all to a general audience 'in English'.

Bio of Persi Diaconis:    Persi Warren Diaconis is an American mathematician of Greek descent and former professional magician. He is the Mary V. Sunseri Professor of Statistics and Mathematics at Stanford University, working in probability, combinatorics, and group theory with a focus on applications to statistics and scientific computing. He is particularly known for tackling mathematical problems involving randomness and randomization, such as coin flipping and shuffling playing cards.

From the age of five up to the age of fourteen, Persi studied the violin at the famous Juilliard School in New York. Persi also taught himself magic tricks from the age of five and, as he grew up, this was a hobby which came to dominate his daily life. At age fourteen, Dersi left high school without telling his parents and went with Dai Vernon, a famous Canadian born sleight-of-hand expert, to join him on one of his American tours performing magic shows.

In order to learn more mathematics, Persi went back to New York to study at the City College of New York in 1968 while continuing his magic shows to support himself. He earned a B.S. Mathematics in 1971 and then a Ph.D. at Harvard in 1974. He held positions at Stanford, Harvard, and Cornell University, and finally returned to Stanford in 1998 where he was appointed Mary V Sunseri Professor in the Department of Statistics and the Department of Mathematics.

Persi Diaconis is one of the most decorated mathematicians, whose contributions have been recognized with many prestigious awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the Rollo Davidson Prize, the Van Wijngaarden Award, and the Levi L. Conant Prize (AMS). He was an invited speaker (1990) and a plenary speaker (1998) of the ICM, has been awarded an honorary degree from six universities around the world, and was elected as a Fellow of three professional societies: the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Statistical Association. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a member of the American Philosophical Society.

The Sue Geller Undergraduate Lecture Series is intended as a venue for undergraduate students to interact with a leading researcher from outside Texas A&M University who has also demonstrated a deep interest in mentoring students. Before 2018 it was known as the Mathematics Undergraduate Research Lecture Series.

Sue Geller, known to students as Dr. Sue, was Professor of Mathematics at Texas A&M. She was the founder and long-time Director of Honors in Mathematics, the first department-level honors program at TAMU. She has supervised more than 100 Masters students and has mentored an uncountable (although finite) number of undergraduates. Her honors include the Ron Barnes Distinguished Service to Students Award from the Texas section of the Mathematical Association of America, and the Texas A&M University Distinguished Service Award in Individual Student Relationships.

2023 Lecture. Jesús A. De Loera, Professor of Mathematics, University of California, Davis.
2022 Lecture. ( poster). Reinhard Laubenbacher, Dean's Professor of System Medicine at University of Florida.
2019 poster. Laura DeMarco, Professor of Mathematics at Northwestern University.
2018 poster: Judy L. Walker, Aaron Douglas Professor of Teaching Excellence at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
2017 poster: Jeffrey C. Lagarias, Harold Mead Stark Collegiate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Michigan.
2016 poster: Richard P. Stanley, Norman Levinson Professor of Applied Mathematics at MIT.
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