Math Club is home for students who find fun in Mathematics

10-15-2013

Math Club president Steve Mussman

Purdue Math Club president Steve Mussman explains a problem to members at a recent meeting.


Three pizzas + 3 two-liters of soda + 2 math-centric board games / 2 chalk boards filled with equations and diagrams x passion for all things mathematics = A typical meeting for the Purdue Math Club.

This longstanding organization is a social outlet for students of varying backgrounds, majors and credit hours under their belts to come together every week to talk – and do – math for an hour.

“It’s more of a recreational setting. We’re not preparing for exams here,” said Steve Mussman, a junior majoring in Mathematics and Math Club president. “I think math is fun.”

Math club meetings are held at 6 p.m. Thursdays in Room 108 in Recitation Hall. Usually between 15 and 20 students attend, a good sum for interaction.

Officers and more seasoned members bring problems to the meeting. Students practically leap for chalk to try and solve the problems individually or in a small group.

The problems come from different arenas. Mussman “made one up” the morning of a recent meeting:

“A long street has n houses with addresses 1,...,n spaced a mile apart. The local post office receives n packages, one address to each house. Due to a mistake, the packages are mixed up and each house is randomly given one package. Upon receiving the packages, each homeowner will walk to the correct house to give the package to the rightful owner. Upon realizing their mistake, the post office offers to pay the homeowners one dollar per mile that they had to walk to correct the mistake. What is the expected value of the payout from the post office?”

Another problem came from club member Scott Podlogar’s little sister’s seventh grade math class. The problem was designed to blow junior high school students’ minds and seem impossible to solve. It was a minor challenge for the young Purdue math geniuses on this night. Behold the “camel problem:”

“There’s a camel out in the middle of an oasis. There are 2,000 bananas at the oasis. It’s 100 miles to the market. The camel wants to sell his bananas at the market. The problem is that 100 miles is a long way to walk. To go a mile, he has to eat a banana and he can only carry 100 bananas at a time but he can leave bananas along the way. So he can go out 10 miles, leave a bunch of bananas and then go back as long as he can eat bananas to get back. So what’s the maximum amount of bananas the camel can get to the market?”

The answers to both problems are at the bottom of this article.

During some meetings, student, faculty and alumni speakers are brought in to present their latest mathematical exploits. Sometimes concepts go over some members’ heads but they are appreciative to have the opportunity to learn about new math and discuss it with someone in an intimate setting.

“That’s one of the better things about Math Club: You get to see people who know higher-level math apply it,” said club ambassador Edwin Baeza. “You would be like ‘I don’t know any of that stuff but I want to be able to do what they’re doing.’ It drives you to want to learn more about math.”

“That and the free food,” joked Joseph Ruan, Math Club Webmaster.

Math Club game

At a recent meeting, it was “game night.” A group of 14 (13 males, one female) played the pattern recognition and memory board game Ricochet Robots before a visual perception card game called Set.

Most of the math tackled at meetings is discrete math: Problems dealing with integers, graphs and logic tend to get juices flowing best.

“We won’t go into super abstract stuff like compact sets with real analysis,” Ruan assured.

Most Math Club members met each other at meetings or call-outs. Most don’t have classes together but they are generally in the same academic areas. Throughout the meeting, upperclassmen could be heard dishing advice and warnings about certain classes, professors and problems.

Club members also have access to one of the more clever T-shirt designs on campus. In old gold lettering on black, these Math Clubbers proudly display “B’Euler Up!” across their chests. The script is above an image of pioneering 18th century mathematician Leonhard Euler and three of his most famous formulas.

Most Math Club members established their passion for math at an early age. However, most of their high schools didn’t have a set club or organization for math aficionados.

“Most of the people in my school that really liked math would sit around and talk,” recalled Baeza. “It was a community. Well, maybe ‘community’ is the wrong word. It was only four people.”

Those numbers have more than quadrupled for Baeza in the Math Club. And hopefully it will continue to increase. Mussman said the Math Club has grown in size and quality in recent years. It’s more organized and ready to multiply.

‘The goal of the club is for people who are interested in math to get together and get even more interested in math,” he stated.

Math Club at board 

Package problem answer: (n^2 - 1)/3

Banana problem answer/algorithm: The idea is to take as many bananas as possible to the 1 mile mark and then from there, get the maximum to the 2 mile mark and so on up to the 1000 mile mark.

To get the maximum bananas one mile, first, take a trip with 100 bananas (or as many as you have). From there, if there are more than 2 bananas remaining at the previous mile marker, go back and get as many bananas as possible and go forward. Continue this until there are 2 or fewer bananas.

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