Chocolate-Covered Pi and Google Bombs: Book Makes Math Fun

Tim Chartier works with students in the library
Tim Chartier works with students in the library.

According to Tim Chartier, the many curious applications of math include reproducing a famous portrait with M&Ms, finding your celebrity lookalike and determining how tweets can affect a big-budget movie's opening weekend.

Chartier, an associate professor of mathematics, tackles these mathematical curiosities and many more in his latest book, Math Bytes: Google Bombs, Chocolate-Covered Pi, and Other Cool Bits in Computing. In it he attempts to make math friendly by exploring the myriad ways computing and mathematics relate to the world around us. Chartier explained, "Simply realizing that math can hold their interest is an important discovery for many people."

Chartier has become nationally renowned for making math palatable and popular, particularly with his work on the March Madness basketball tournament brackets. Each year, Chartier and his students design algorithms to predict which teams will come out on top. The mathematical concepts behind "bracketology" are among the many real-world applications Chartier covers in Math Bytes.

Real-World Application

Chartier said Math Bytes mirrors the interactive way he teaches classes at Davidson. "This book is a sample of what I do in class each day as an applied mathematician with a specialty in computer science," he said. "I try to tie every concept I teach in class to a real world application."

For example, Chartier reveals how to create pop art collages out of M&Ms by using an algorithm he designed. Transforming the original artwork into organized rows of the multicolored candy can turn it into an Andy Warhol-style image. Try it yourself on this Math Bytes web application.

Other Math Bytes topics include using formulas to determine celebrity lookalikes, turning single images into mesmerizing fractals, and analyzing how Twitter activity can make or break a movie's premiere at the box office.

More than Numbers

Before his book was published, Chartier adapted selections from Math Bytes into lesson plans for the Charlotte Teachers' Institute, a program led by professors from Davidson and UNC Charlotte to strengthen teaching practices in public schools. Chartier said, "Taking the draft of Math Bytes to the institute not only helped teachers make learning math fun, but helped me make my book easier to understand."

Chartier also asked former students Daniel Orr '08 and Brian McGue '13 to become readers for the book. "They told me that Math Bytes reminded them of the excitement they felt when we explored applications for math in class," said Chartier. "They also weren't afraid to tell me which parts needed more work."

Chartier says the primary goal of Math Bytes, and perhaps his whole career, is to leave people with positive experiences with math. "Too many kids these days are becoming disillusioned with learning math," Chartier explained. "That's why I tell all my students, both math majors and non majors, to have at least one great story to tell about math. That way, when a child tells you that math scares them, you'll have something to say."

Reviews of Math Bytes

Update: Book on Tasty, Quirky Math Named an Outstanding Choice

Math Bytes was recently named as an "Outstanding Academic Title" for 2014 by Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries. The designation honors just ten percent of the 7,000 works reviewed in Choice during the previous calendar year.

Choice editors base their selections on a book's overall excellence in presentation and scholarship, importance relative to other literature in the field, originality or uniqueness of treatment, value to undergraduate students and importance in building undergraduate library collections.

Choice is the premier source for reviews of academic books and digital resources of interest to scholars and students in higher education. More than 22,000 librarians, faculty and decision makers rely on Choice magazine and Choice Reviews Online for collection development and scholarly research.