Senior Presents Research at Largest Math Conference in U.S.

Created: October 9, 2014
Last Updated: December 17, 2019

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WASHINGTON, Pa. (Oct. 9, 2014)—A Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) senior was one of just 80 students nationwide to present independent research at the Mathematical Association of America’s (MAA) MathFest 2014 in Portland, Ore., the largest annual summer gathering of mathematicians in the United States.

Kimberly Phillips, a double major in chemistry and mathematics from Falls Creek, Pa., gave a presentation entitled “Tiling M-Deficient Mutilated Chessboards with M-Polyominoes” during the Student Speaker Session. The research she presented at MathFest was compelling enough that it has been submitted for peer-review through the Pi Mu Epsilon Journal.

“Pi Mu Epsilon holds its national conference in conjunction with MathFest every year,” Phillips explained. “After my induction last semester, a member of the Pi Mu Epsilon Society Council sent an email regarding the opportunity to present research at MathFest’s Student Speaker Session. When my advisor, Dr. Higginbottom, encouraged me to submit an abstract, I did.”

Phillips was inducted into the Omega Chapter of Pi Mu Epsilon, the National Mathematical Honor Society, in the spring of 2014.

Ryan Higginbottom, Ph.D., an associate professor in the W&J Department of Mathematics, assisted Phillips with an independent research project from June 2013 through April 2014. Phillips examined a paper written by mathematics and science writer Martin Gardner entitled “Tiling Mutilated Chessboards with L-Trominoes” and used her independent research to expand upon Gardner’s ideas.

It was during this time that Higginbottom said he noted her admirable work ethic and obvious passion for mathematical challenges. “When we were doing our research together, I could count on her to be prepared for every meeting and to come with good, creative ideas,” he said.

In January 2014, Phillips presented her preliminary research at the Joint Mathematics Meeting (JMM) in Baltimore, Md. She presented the finalized version of this project at MathFest.

Higginbottom coached Phillips through rehearsals and practice-talks in preparation for her preliminary presentation in Baltimore, and he said that experience was enough to assure him that she would be a success in Portland.

“I looked over Kim’s slides, made a few suggestions, and trusted her with the results,” he said. “She’s very capable and since I knew her history with this presentation, I was confident she’d do a great job.”

In addition to presenting her research and having her work submitted for peer review, Phillips said that hearing fellow mathematicians’ “astounding insights and experiences” made MathFest an experience she will never forget.

She also said MathFest opened her eyes to an array of potential career opportunities. “I never really considered attending graduate school for mathematics,” Phillips explained, “but now, I am currently applying for graduate programs in mathematics and for chemical engineering.”

Higginbottom said the W&J Mathematics Department prides itself on sending its brightest students out into the national mathematical community. “Not only does it raise the visibility of the College,” he said, “but because our students do such a stellar job, others become aware of the excellence (and not merely the existence) of W&J.”

“I cannot thank the W&J Mathematics Department and faculty – and Dr. Higginbottom – for giving me the opportunity to attend MathFest and for their help and support with my research,” said Phillips.

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