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Bringing Math to the Masses: Robert Huben’s Senior Fellowship

Senior Fellow Robert Huben.
Senior Fellow Robert Huben.

A true passion for knowledge is of growing scarcity in the world today.  Such a passion extends beyond the simple desire to learn; it is a hunger to experience as well as comprehension, to grow in oneself and aid others in their journey. For Senior Fellow Robert Huben ’15, it is a passion he understands very well.

Huben’s insatiable appetite for knowledge began early, having found interest in a topic with near limitless intellectual depth.  “I've known for a while now that I really liked math,” he stated rather modestly, the humble claim belied by his notable accomplishments.  A senior member of the Mathletics Club at Hamilton, Huben engages in complex mathematical examinations while also encouraging others to pursue a greater understanding in the field.  Emails can be found peppered throughout student inboxes, his quirky sense of humor urging individuals to attend club meetings, “Be there or b^2-4ac!”

Huben’s love for math extends far beyond mere extracurriculars, though.  Having completed nearly every mathematics course offered at Hamilton by his sophomore year and with his desire for learning unabated, Huben turned his focus abroad.  His junior year was spent not at Hamilton, but rather in the nation of Hungary.  Attending and completing the Budapest Semesters of Mathematics program, he gained a much more substantial understanding of the field of mathematics as well as personal perspective on the future of his studies.

Upon his return to campus, Huben evaluated his options and made a decision, “A Senior Fellowship was my best option to keep learning new math.”  With the guidance of his advisors and mentors, Assistant Professors Andrew Dykstra and Courtney Gibbons of the math department, Huben chose his topic.

The Senior Fellowship, titled “Size Matters: Directed Explorations in Measurable Dynamics and Homological Algebra,” seeks to study two distinct areas of mathematics: homological algebra and ergodic theory.  While a deep and fluid conceptualization of such advanced mathematical topics is more than likely absent from a layman’s understanding, the project is not completely esoteric.

“Dynamics is the study of systems that change by certain rules, and in ergodic theory they have a ‘measurable’ structure as well,” Huben explained easily. “For instance, we might look at how cream disperses when you stir it into coffee, where the measure on this system is ‘amount of cream in this region of the coffee cup.’”

While the capacity to explain certain properties of coffee will absolutely rouse the interest of those that rely on the substance’s seemingly magical powers, the focus of Huben’s project is much greater than complex algebra and fluid dynamics.  Essential to his Senior Fellowship is a pay-it-forward notion; he doesn’t just want to gain knowledge, he wants to spread it.  Through presentations, talks, and lectures, Huben is attempting to make complicated mathematical subjects more accessible.  He has already given two talks on the topic of his project and hosted a presentation for other Senior Fellows in which he elucidated the complexities of the Ergodic Theorem using Play-Doh.

Epitomizing a true passion for knowledge, Huben candidly expressed his desire to bring an understanding of mathematics to others, “I really enjoy explaining neat things in math to people, and I hope to go on to teach math, possibly at a college like Hamilton.”

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