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23rd Annual Sulski Memorial Lecture Explores the ‘Shape of Space’

April 22nd, 2016 by 

Tom Rettig

Tom Cecil, professor of mathematics, remembers Leonard Sulski as a demanding, no-nonsense math professor at Holy Cross, a teacher who loved his students and was dedicated to them, and one who served as a role model and an inspiration for fellow educators.

“He truly loved mathematics,” Cecil said in introducing the speaker at this year’s Leonard C. Sulski Memorial Lecture in Mathematics, held on April 11 at the College. “His love for math was certainly contagious.”

So contagious that Cecil took six of his courses, became a math professor at Holy Cross himself and wrote a tribute to his mentor in Holy Cross Magazine after Sulski died of leukemia in 1991.

The lecture in Sulski’s memory has been presented for 23 years, and this year’s speaker, Jeff Weeks, challenged those who packed the room in Smith Labs to think outside the box — way outside the box — in his lively, one-hour presentation: “The Shape of Space.”

Weeks, who holds a doctorate in math from Princeton, has been developing software that allows non-math specialists to explore two, three and four dimensions. He discusses the universe and its possible shapes using computer games, interactive graphics and satellite data.

“The universe is big,” Weeks told those gathered for the lecture; it has 100 billion galaxies, each of which has 100 billion stars. But does it go on forever?

“Infinity might be an illusion,” he said as he began guiding students, professors and others through a virtual tour of several possible shapes for the universe.

An hour later, he conceded that researchers don’t know the shape of space, and later said that he doubts the issue will be settled in his lifetime, though it’s worth finding out. “In terms of understanding the wonderful world we find ourselves born into, it’s a tremendously satisfying question to pursue. And, if possible, to answer!”

Written by Dave Greenslit

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