A mathematical adventure


On Wednesday, I spoke about “From Photographs to Models: the Geometry of Image-Based 3D Reconstruction” as part of the Bay Area Mathematical Adventures (BAMA) series. I felt immensely honored to be asked to speak given the caliber of past speakers. Last night I felt even more honored when I discovered the high caliber of the students I was speaking to.

The BAMA talks are aimed at high school students, but my audience ranged from junior high students (or even younger) to adults. More than 100 people were there, and the students were lively, engaged, curious, and imaginative. They enthusiastically suggested reasons  why drawings most of us thought were polygons were not (“that edge isn’t quite straight”,  “the chalk sticks out of the board, so it is really a 3D shape”). Before explaining each reconstruction result, I paused to allow the students time to see if they could come up with an algorithm or a counterexample. I could see them thinking hard, and some of them gave remarkably clear impromptu explanations. It was a joy to see them enjoying the topic so much.

I’m impressed by the outreach efforts of the organizers,  Tatiana Shubin and Peter Ross, that resulted in such a large and diverse audience. I knew they were sending out lots of flyers, but I didn’t expect to be confronted, as I approached the building, with a huge poster, an enlarged version of the flyer with the biggest picture of me I’d ever seen. Many thanks to Angela Dunnigan who took a great picture and gave me a copy at a high enough resolution that it still looked good at that size!

I’ll post slides in a day or two, with a link in the comments section, so look for it there. In the meantime, enjoy the four cartoons I used in my talk (and one bonus one I almost used), all drawn by my friend Tom Canel.

Speaking to this group last night was a pleasure and a privilege.  I hope it will be the beginning of greater involvement in educational outreach on my part (and of others who read this blog).

Update: A video of the talk is now available on the MAAvideo channel on YouTube. The research paper upon which the talk is based is Geometric reconstruction from point-normal data.


  1. Thanks again, Eleanor.

    I looked at the cute “bonus cartoon” above, which mentions Lakatos. Two different colleagues, whom I told about your talk and the definition of “polygon”, brought up Lakatos’s famous book “Proofs and Refutations”.

    Out next BAMA talk, on Friday evening Nov. 20 at SCU, will be on geometry and mechanics. It’ll be by Robert Bryant, the Director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at Berkeley. Details and the flyer will soon be at the BAMA website http://www.mathematicaladventures.org/

    Peter Ross

  2. Peter,

    Oddly enough, I’ve never read Lakatos. I should!

    The Robert Bryant talk “Rolling and Tumbling – The Idea of Holonomy” sounds like it will be great. I would have liked to go to see his “not-so-everyday toys,” but I’m singing that evening! (http://www.baychoralguild.org/)


  3. […] the exhibit. (Before looking at the pictures, how did they succeed in making the ride smooth?) Like the  Bay Area Mathematical Adventures series, this exhibit is great outreach. I hope eventually it will come […]

  4. Your description of the kids at this event is really inspiring and encouraging. It’s nice to hear that these kids felt free to poke, prod, and raise the kinds of questions they did.

  5. […] and for narrating it. The geometric reconstruction work I spoke about last week as part of the Bay Area Mathematical Adventures series was inspired by the issues we discovered while building the system. For more details on our work, […]

  6. […] Photographs to Models: The Mathematics of Image-Based Modeling. I blogged about that experience here. I had hoped to post a link to the video at the same time, but it isn’t ready yet. I never […]

  7. Wow – what an experience to be treated like visiting royalty! This is the kind of experience that top-level scientists have, and freelance educators like me rarely have. It’s the glamour of science.

    I bring ocean science presentations to schools. The closest I’ve ever gotten to an experience like yours is coming in through a door decorated with an octopus, and finding all the kids singing S-A-L-T-Y.

    It was hard, leaving academia and the kind of respect one gets just for being a scientist. Jane Lubchenko, the head of NOAA followed the traditional route to excellence, being head of the AAAS, on the board of the Packard Foundation and all. I’ll never be Jane, now, but hope to make a difference in a small way.

  8. Thanks, Cynthia!

    Your ocean consulting website is really beautiful.

    Best of luck with your freelance education effort! Looks like you are off to a good start. I’ve never inspired students to sing!

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