Offbeat math professor Edward Burger to speak at CU-Boulder March 15

If you despise math and the sight of an equation makes you physically ill, Professor Edward Burger of Baylor University and Williams College may be able to heal you during a talk at the University of Colorado Boulder on Thursday, March 15.

Burger’s talk, titled “Zero to Infinity: Great Moments in the History of Numbers,” will be held at 6 p.m. in the Mathematics Building room 100. The talk is free and open to the public and pizza and refreshments will be served afterward. Burger plans to answer a number of questions in his lecture, including whether humans are the only animals that can count, how the desire to count made it possible for William Shakespeare to write his plays, and whether negative numbers were invented to explain Burger’s own checking account balance.

Burger, who is on the record as saying “no one in their right mind would ever go to a math talk,” is not your run-of-the mill math educator. He has worked as a stand-up comedian, wrote jokes for Jay Leno in the late 1980s, starred in an episode of NBC’s “Science of the Winter Olympics” in 2010 that won him a prestigious Telly Award, and most recently is being featured in “The Science of NHL Hockey” on NBC News.

“The talk is intended as whirlwind tour of the history of numbers and watch them grow from practical tools used by ancient shepherds to practical tools used to drive the digital age,” said Burger, who was named was named Vice-Provost of Strategic Educational Initiatives at Baylor University in 2011.  “If you love the humanities, sciences, social sciences, medical science, business, engineering or anything involving human thought, this talk is for you.” 

Burger is considered by many to be the nation’s leader in math education. In 2006 Reader’s Digest named him “America’s Best Math Teacher.” In 2010 he was named the winner of the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching by Baylor University, an award that carried a $250,000 prize and is believed to be the largest and most prestigious award in higher education teaching in the nation across all disciplines.  

In 2010 the Huffington Post named Burger as one of the world’s 100 “Game-Changers,” a list that included “innovators, visionaries, mavericks and leaders who are re-shaping their fields and changing the world.” He also is an associate editor of the American Mathematical Monthly and of Math Horizons Magazine.

In a 2005 Boston Public Library lecture on topology -- the study of the properties of geometric figures or solids that remain unchanged during stretching or bending -- he demonstrated that it was possible to tie a six-foot rope snugly around his right ankle and then his left ankle, take off his pants, turn them inside out and put them back on without ever cutting the rope. He once had 600 beach balls poured from the balcony of a packed auditorium at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. onto the heads of audience members to demonstrate a math principle.

Burger’s deep passion for math is founded on the premise that it should be made lively, fun and educational. “The idea is to entertain and enlighten,” he said. “My goal is get people to have fun thinking, have a better feeling about math, and to look at things in a slightly different way.”

Burger is the author of more than 35 research articles, 12 books and 15 video series.  He has delivered more than 400 lectures and appeared on more than 40 radio and TV programs, including ABC News Now and National Public Radio.  He has been a visiting mathematics professor at CU-Boulder three times.

His upcoming book, “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking,” offers students, teachers, business people and life-long learners ways of being more creative and innovative.  It is being published this summer by Princeton University Press.

Contact: Jim Scott, 303-492-3114