### September 24, 2010

### Host: Chris Mooney

Ever wonder about the mathematical basis for battling a zombie infestation? Jennifer Ouellette has. In her new book *The Calculus Diaries*, the English major turned science journalist goes on an odyssey to relearn the branch of math that so intimidated her in high school.

Along the way, she finds calculus in activities ranging from surfing, to catching fly balls, to playing craps in Vegas.

Naturally, calculus can also tell us how to stop the marauding zombies before they take over the human population for good.

At a time when the U.S. lags in science and math education, a book like Ouellette's—making math intriguing and accessible—is more than a good read. It’s an educational necessity.

Jennifer Ouellette is the author of three books: *Black Bodies and Quantum Cats: Tales from the Annals of Physics*,* The Physics of the Buffyverse*, and most recently, *The Calculus Diaries*. She has also written widely, blogs at "Cocktail Party Physics," and until recently was director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a National Academy of Sciences project to bridge the gap between the research community and Hollywood.

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### Comments from the CFI Forums

I like the idea of reforming math class. I agree that it needs

more history, more story telling about the people who have

contributed to it. I love to hear about Archimedes and the

others. Those stories make the math seem more relevant, rather

than just a long list of rules.

It was brave of her to take on calculus like that. How does

everyone think that she did? Did you understand the common

example of the relationship between velocity and position that

calculus describes? And the example of the ball player catching

a ball, having the same relationship, how well did everyone

understand that?

One big advantage that a lecture has over an audio, is a

black/whiteboard. Mathematics is a written language, of course.

Books have that advantage too. But text files like this message

have such limited resolution for the layout, that not even

Unicode can make the math look right. I wonder if her book has

any math in it, or merely has English.

All I saw was zombies. That’s enough to spark my interest.

DM, quoting the great philosopher and nutritionist of a 1970’s

child. Ha! :)

I was very curious, so I pulled a few quotes from Jennifer

Ouellette’s interview, I was looking for the science and her

background in the interview. Enjoy.

(1:24) “In her new book _The_Calculus_diaries_ this English

major turned science writer goes on an odyssey to re-learn the

branch of math that so intimidated her in high-school.”

(5:47) “I never took calculus, but I certainly took algebra,

advanced algebra.”

(3:55) “Well I’m not trying to teach them calculus, but I would

hope that it would open their eyes… a little bit, because it

certainly changed my perspective. I’m married to a physicist,

and one of the stories that I tell in the book tells of stopping

by… driving along the Pacific coast highway along the ocean

coast, and around sunset we stopped to admire the sunset on the

beach and we could see the waves hitting the beach… the

beautiful sunset… and I appreciated it greatly, don’t get me

wrong… but my husband saw something else.”

(13:00) “That’s Dan Meyer, and I love him.”

“... and I followed a lot of his prescriptions for how to fix

calculus class, which is having a context, you know, creating my

own problems.”

(14:07) “... because even though I learned some basics, I’m

certainly not going to be acing the AP calculus exam anytime

soon… that’s not the point.”

(16:26) Science and Entertainment Exchange

(18:19) “... the old problem with Hollywood and science was, in

part, that it would depict the scientists as nerds, and geeks,

and sort of oddballs… you don’t really want to go near them.

And when it came to Mathematicians on film, it would actually go

a step further, because they would be depicted as actually

insane.”

(23:45) “... there was a chapter in the _Buffy_ book called the

physics of the fight, where I draw on [judo].”