August 1, 2019

Aaron Riker in Dumfries

This excerpt from the Civil War journal of Aaron Denton Riker (1830-1914) of the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry describes his regiment's role in garrisoning the town of Dumfries, Virginia, during the winter of 1862-63 (edited for spelling, punctuation, and clarity).
   
At that time, the regiment was part of the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside (replaced by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker in January 1863). The regiment (Lieut. Col. Eugene Powell) was in the first brigade (Col. Charles Candy) of the second division (Brig. Gen. John W. Geary) of the twelfth army corps (XII Corps), led by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum.

Dumfries, Virginia, December 1862-April 1863

Passing through Leesburg, we took the road to Fairfax, from thence to Dumfries [Virginia]. It had been the design for us to join [Maj. Gen. Ambrose] Burnside previous to the Battle of Fredericksburg [Dec. 11-15, 1862]. But the terrible muddy state of the roads prevented our reaching there in time, and we did not get further than Dumfries, at which place we arrived on the 16th of December.


Map dating to the 1860s shows roads between Fairfax Station to the north and Dumfries to the south. Library of Congress.

A portion of our division was ordered to garrison the town of Dumfries. The 5th, 7th, 29th, and 66th Ohio regiments were assigned this duty, under command of Col. Charles Candy. Joseph C. Brand, as senior quartermaster, took charge of the post quartermaster and commissary departments. I was given charge of the commissary department, where I was kept very busy during my stay in that department.

Our supplies were brought by boat from Alexandria to a point on the Potomac [River] within four miles of our post. From there they had to be wagoned over a miserable road. [It was] almost an impossibility to supply the Command with supplies, owing to the state of the road being almost a mire from the boat landing to the town.


Map showing supply route from a boat landing on the Potomac River to the town of Dumfries. Cockpit Point to the north had been the site of a Confederate battery before it was abandoned in March 1862Library of Congress.

So far I have omitted giving a description of towns and villages passed through or a description of the country or miles traveled from the fact that, at this time of writing, which is more than 12 months since our arrival at the last-named town, I have had to write from memory, having lost my notebook at this place. From the time of our reaching Dumfries, I will be able to give more minute details of our marches, etc.

Dumfries has at one time been a large and prosperous town and deserves more than a passing notice. It was settled in the year [1651] by emigrants from Scotland, it being the second settlement in Virginia.

The town has been twice burned and now numbers about 20 dilapidated houses. The present rebellion has left its mark here and on the country around, Sewell's [Point] and Cockpit Point being near here. The Rebels occupying those places have destroyed all fencing, together with a number of buildings in and around town.

This was formerly a county seat, the courthouse still standing. The bricks of which it is built were brought from Scotland, and the first bell ever imported to America summoned the people together when Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech against colonial taxation within the walls of the courthouse.

Twas here that [George] Washington spent a portion of his youth. And the house in which [Mason Locke] Weems, the author of the life of Washington, lived is still standing. The glory of Dumfries has departed, and soon it will cease to be a town as none but the poorer classes now reside there, men of capital having gone to more enterprising towns where they have established themselves in business.

While we remained here, our pickets were sometimes annoyed by bushwhackers, and very often supply wagons were captured on the road between here and Alexandria. Yet we were allowed to remain in quietude, with the exception of an occasional false alarm and the frequent intelligence of the capture of supply wagons, which we attributed to citizens.


Remains of a Civil War skirmish line in the Prince William Forest near Dumfries, Virginia. National Park Service.

Thus our time passed from the 16th of December to the [26th] of December, when we were startled by the booming of cannon at 12 o'clock while we were at dinner. On going out to learn the cause, we found the Rebels had a battery planted on a hill overlooking the town and were shelling the town.

The troops of our Command were stationed out of town half a mile on the east and north, while the enemy appeared on the west. We had but two pieces of artillery. They were soon placed in position and the fire returned. In the meantime, the infantry came up, and the musketry commenced.

The fight lasted until dark and left us in full possession of the field though the enemy outnumbered us three to one, they [also] having four pieces of artillery. Yet we repulsed them at every point where they attempted to advance. They retreated in the night, and [we] were not molested any more by them. Our loss was three killed, a few wounded, and one picket post captured with a small guard.

We remained at Dumfries until the 20th day of April, when we marched to Aquia Creek and joined our old division again.

We have eight days rations constantly in the hands of the men, which [they] must carry on the march. I now have to draw and issue rations about every day in order to keep the full eight days in the hands of the men. While at Dumfries, I was promoted to commissary sergeant, [in place of] Purington. My appointment dates from the first day of January 1863.


Aaron Denton Riker (1830-1914) of Champaign County, Ohio, enlisted as a private in the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on October 11, 1861. The regiment was mustered in for three years service on December 17, 1861, under the command of Colonel Charles Candy. In April 1862, while in Strasburg, Virginia, during the Shenandoah campaign, Riker was assigned to the commissary department, handling supplies for the troops. In October of that year, he found himself in charge of the regiment's commissary and subsequently attained the rank of sergeant while his regiment was stationed in Dumfries, Virginia.

Riker was mustered out of the regiment in 1865 as a first lieutenant.


Aaron D. Riker, Columbus, Ohio, July 27, 1865.

Riker kept a journal recounting his experiences during the Civil War. The journal is now housed at the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine. JournalTranscript.

July 30, 2019

July 29, 2019

River Boat


Hudson River, West Park, New York, 2019.

Photo by I. Peterson

July 25, 2019

Aaron Riker at Chancellorsville

This excerpt from the Civil War journal of Aaron Denton Riker (1830-1914) of the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry describes his regiment's role in the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia (edited for spelling, punctuation, and consistency).
   
At that time in the spring of 1863, the regiment was part of the Army of the Potomac,  commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. The regiment (Lieut. Col. Eugene Powell) was in the first brigade (Col. Charles Candy) of the second division (Brig. Gen. John W. Geary) of the twelfth army corps (XII Corps), led by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum.

Chancellorsville, Virginia, April-May 1863

We remained at Aquia Creek from the 22nd to the 27th of April, when we again marched with the Army of the Potomac in the direction of the Rappahannock [River], arriving at Kelly's Ford on the 29th.

We crossed the river without opposition and traveled down the river, surprised and captured two hundred of the enemy at the crossing [Germanna Ford] of the Rapidan [River]. From the Rapidan we traveled on the [Orange] Plank Road in the direction of Fredericksburg, arriving at Chancellorsville on the 30th of April. Here the army halted in line of battle and rested for the night. The enemy were disposed to dispute our further march.


Maj. Gen. Hooker's forces arrived at Chancellorsville, the site of the Chancellor family home and roadside inn, on April 30, 1863. The large building stood at the intersection of three roads, each of which led to Fredericksburg, and Hooker and his staff established his headquarters at the house.

May 1st
Reconnoitering parties were send out and had some heavy skirmishing with the Rebels. The 66th [regiment] was of the skirmishers. It now became evident a big fight must come off soon. Entrenchments were hastily thrown up by our army behind which they sheltered themselves from the balls of the enemy. The Rebels advanced to the attack and were promptly met by our troops. Heavy fighting afternoon and night.


Much of the battle was fought in the dense, scraggly woods and tangled thickets of the area known as the Wilderness. Maj. Gen. Slocum's Twelfth Corps threw up earthworks and entrenched themselves in these woods until they were finally forced to fall back after several days of fierce combat.

May 2nd
This afternoon, the enemy under Jackson were massed on our right where the 11th corps were stationed. Here the fighting was terrific. After a stout resistance of nearly two hours, the 11th corps gave way and broke their lines. The enemy followed up this advantage, thereby gained a crossfire on the right center 12th corps, causing that to give way.

Our lines fell back slowly and formed anew and checked the tide of battle, which for a time had set against us. The 12th corps was now relieved from the right center and assigned to the left of our line of battle.

May 3rd
The battle raged all day. The cannonading was terrific. There was scarcely any intermission between reports but was almost a constant roar.


Confederate artillery on a hilltop known as Hazel Grove dueled with Union guns at a farmstead know as Fairview, a half mile away, in a furious cannonade.

While the rattle of musketry was almost deafening yet, remarkable as it may appear, I could distinctly hear the cheers of those who were then engaged in deadly strife. Our army held their new position and repulsed every attempt made by the enemy to dislodge them. Yet owing to the disaster of the preceding day, our forces could not successfully advance.


On May 3, Confederate forces converged on the Chancellor house, their artillery shells striking the brick building. One shell hit a porch column on which Hooker was leaning, causing it to collapse and injure the general. Another shell set the building on fire. The house burned to the ground. Only a few remnants of the house's foundation are visible now.

May 4th
On the fourth, the fighting was again renewed and continued throughout the day at intervals, neither army seemingly gaining any advantage. The slaughter of human life has been dreadful. The 66th has again suffered severely, though our loss in killed has been light. This evening, the enemy attempted to cross the Rappahannock at Banks Ford so as to gain our rear. But after a hard fight they were repulsed with great slaughter.

May 5th
This morning, our army fell back, crossing the Rappahannock at United States Ford, each corps falling back to its former camp around Falmouth, Aquia Creek, and Stafford. The Rebels did not pursue, and our retreat from the battlefield was very successfully accomplished.

Thus ended another campaign in which our army has lost much in officers and men, though good authority says the Rebel loss greatly exceeds ours. We have taken a large number of prisoners, while the enemy have taken about an equal number from us. In the assault on our right on the evening of the 2nd, the Rebel General Jackson received a mortal wound and died in a few hours.


This plaque near the site of the Chancellor house summarizes the Battle of Chancellorsville. Contrary to Riker's account, "Stonewall" Jackson died of pneumonia on May 10, eight days after he was accidentally shot by Confederate pickets.

Our division fell back to camp near Aquia Creek.


Aaron Denton Riker (1830-1914) of Champaign County, Ohio, enlisted as a private in the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on October 11, 1861. The regiment was mustered in for three years service on December 17, 1861, under the command of Colonel Charles Candy. In April 1862, while in Strasburg, Virginia, during the Shenandoah campaign, Riker was assigned to the commissary department, handling supplies for the troops. In October of that year, he found himself in charge of the regiment's commissary and subsequently attained the rank of sergeant while his regiment was stationed in Dumfries, Virginia.

Riker was mustered out of the regiment in 1865 as a first lieutenant.


Aaron D. Riker, Columbus, Ohio, July 27, 1865.

Riker kept a journal recounting his experiences during the Civil War. The journal is now housed at the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine. JournalTranscript.

July 23, 2019

Aaron Riker at Cedar Mountain

This excerpt from the Civil War journal of Aaron Denton Riker (1830-1914) of the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry describes his regiment's role in the Battle of Cedar Mountain in Virginia (edited for spelling, punctuation, and consistency).

At that time in 1862, the regiment had marched from the Shenandoah River Valley to become part of the newly constituted Army of Virginia,  commanded by Maj. Gen. John Pope. The regiment (Col. Charles Candy) was in the first brigade (Brig. Gen. John W. Geary) of the second division (Brig. Gen. Christopher C. Auger) of the second army corps (II Corps), led by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks.

Cedar Mountain, Virginia, August 1862

We marched over a beautiful country from Warrenton to Culpeper, at which place we arrived in the night of the 8th of August. It was reported the enemy were preparing to dispute our further progress and were massing their forces some six miles south of Culpeper Court House.


Cedar Mountain served as the backdrop for the battle between Union and Confederate forces that occurred on August 9, 1862. Confederate artillery gunners were entrenched along the slope of Cedar Mountain and could fire down upon any units in the fields below.

On the morning of the 9th of August, the various regiments took up the line of march expecting a fight, in which they were not disappointed. The enemy were found strongly posted at Slaughter's or Cedar Mountain. Our men were formed in line of battle, and at 3 p.m. the fight commenced and continued with unabated fury until late at night.


At the start of the battle on a blisteringly hot afternoon, Confederate soldiers were deployed along a road passing parallel to a fenced cornfield, backed by woods, with Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in overall command.

Our brigade was exposed to galling fire during the whole fight, and the 66th lost 102 men in killed, wounded, and missing. Our division and brigade commanders were both wounded. When the command fell on Col. Candy of the 66th, darkness put an end to the slaughter.


Brig. Gen. Auger's division, which included the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry of the first brigade, attacked the Confederate line directly across a field of tall corn, enduring fire from Confederate infantry in front of them and the Cedar Mountain artillery behind them. Auger and Ohio brigade commander Geary were both wounded during the battle.

Both armies fell back during the night and formed their lines in the rear of the positions occupied during the fight. On Sunday morning after the fight, a flag of truce came in from the enemy asking permission to bury the dead, when both armies performed these sad rites to departed heroes.


Battlefield stone pillar marks the presence of the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Cedar Mountain.

On Monday morning, it was ascertained the Rebels had fallen back. Our cavalry pursued them to Rapidan [River] taking some prisoners. Neither party seemed to have gained much advantage over the other in this fight, both losing heavily.

Our division now fell back to Culpeper, where we encamped, remaining there about 8 days. From spies and scouts sent out by our generals, it was ascertained the enemy were strongly reinforced, and with greatly superior numbers were coming to attack us.

Then commenced on our part what is known as Pope's Retreat. We left Culpeper on Sunday evening, Aug. 17th, and marched all night. We crossed the Rappahannock [River] at daybreak.

Thanks to the efforts of the American Battlefield Trust and Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, significant parts of the land over which the Battle of Cedar Mountain was fought have been protected and restored. Unlike many other civil war battle sites, Cedar Mountain retains much of its period character, with an array of open fields and scrubby woods in an undulating landscape.


Much of the fighting during the Battle of Cedar Mountain took place in dense, scraggly woods next to roads and fields, where visibility was poor.

Nancy Henderson (great great granddaughter of Aaron Riker) and I wish to thank Bradley M. Forbush, our guide at the Cedar Mountain Battlefield, for his insights into the battle and the role played by the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Forbush has a website devoted to the history of the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers.


Aaron Denton Riker (1830-1914) of Champaign County, Ohio, enlisted as a private in the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on October 11, 1861. The regiment was mustered in for three years service on December 17, 1861, under the command of Colonel Charles Candy. In April 1862, while in Strasburg, Virginia, during the Shenandoah campaign, Riker was assigned to the commissary department, handling supplies for the troops. In October of that year, he found himself in charge of the regiment's commissary and subsequently attained the rank of sergeant while his regiment was stationed in Dumfries, Virginia.

Riker was mustered out of the regiment in 1865 as a first lieutenant.


Aaron D. Riker, Columbus, Ohio, July 27, 1865.

Riker kept a journal recounting his experiences during the Civil War. The journal is now housed at the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine. JournalTranscript.

July 22, 2019

Rock Wall


Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, New York, 2019.

Photo by I. Peterson

July 21, 2019

July 19, 2019

River Branches


Hudson River, West Park, New York, 2019.

Photo by I. Peterson

July 18, 2019

Grounded Triquetra


Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, New York, 2019.

Photo by I. Peterson

July 17, 2019

Dome Rings


Marist College, Poughkeepsie, New York, 2019.


Photos by I. Peterson

July 16, 2019

Hudson Sunrise


Hudson River, West Park, New York, 2019.

Photo by I. Peterson

July 6, 2019

Physics Demonstrations

For more than 25 years, Richard B. Minnix (1933-2018)  and D. Rae Carpenter Jr., physics professors at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington,Virginia, offered summer courses for high school teachers interested in perfecting the art of presenting physics demonstrations.

The programs, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, gave participants the chance to spend nearly two weeks sharing methods of demonstrating physical principles, learning new techniques for enlivening physics lectures, and building equipment in the well-equipped machine shop to take back to their own classrooms.

As a high school physics teacher at Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Kingston, Ontario, I participated in the program in 1977, spending the first two weeks of August at VMI. To me, no physics lesson was complete without some link to the real world and everyday experience, and the course provided a wealth of opportunities to engage in that vision.


Attendees at the 1977 "Lecture Demonstration Methods in Physics Instruction" summer course, held at the Virginia Military Institute. Instructor Dick Minnix is on the left side of the second row; Rae Carpenter is on the right side of the top row.


Ivars Peterson getting the point: sitting on a bed of nails to experience the relationship between pressure and surface area.


Field trips took course attendees to the radio telescopes at Green Bank, West Virginia, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and University of Virginia, and a farm, where they could see vivid demonstrations of physical principles in action, harnessed for human use.


Thanks to gravity and careful design, a wooden millrace delivers water to a mill at Halcyon Farm.



Standing beside a massive radio telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia.


Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1977.


Statue of Thomas Jefferson in front of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville,Virginia, 1977.


Course completion certificate.

In 1993, Minnix and Carpenter published The Dick and Rae Physics Demo Notebook, which contains 650 of their favorite physics lecture demonstrations.

July 4, 2019

Blue Ridge Flag


Little Switzerland, North Carolina, 2017.

Photo by I. Peterson

July 1, 2019

Canada Day 2019


City Hall, Toronto, Ontario.

Photo by I. Peterson

June 27, 2019

Charles Ginnever (1931-2019)

Charles Ginnever died on June 16, 2019. A sculptor who often played with stark geometric forms, he was a guest at several meetings devoted to connections between art and mathematics.


Metal model of Charles Ginnever's sculpture Rashomon, displayed at the Second Annual Conference of the International Society of the Arts, Mathematics, and Architecture (ISAMA), University at Albany, Albany, New York, 2000.



See also "Stable Positions" and "Steel Nautilus."

Photos by I. Peterson

June 26, 2019

Chapel Octagon


The North Chapel, Liberty Station, San Diego, California, 2019.


Photos by I. Peterson

June 25, 2019

Passageway


Liberty Station, San Diego, California, 2019.

Photo by I. Peterson

June 24, 2019

Tower Light


San Diego, California, 2019.

Photo by I. Peterson

June 23, 2019

Amber Icicle


Amber Icicle and Split Leaf Chandelier by Dale Chihuly. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C., 2019.

See also "Neptune Blue."

Photo by I. Peterson

June 22, 2019

Flowerburst


Washington, D.C., 2019.

Photo by I. Peterson

June 21, 2019

Figure


Figure by Barbara Hepworth. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C., 2019.

Photo by I. Peterson

June 19, 2019

MSRI Reflections

MSRI Journal
The Mark of Zeta
The Return of Zeta
Solitaire-y Sequences
A Song About Pi
Row Your Boat
Juggling By Design
Averting Instant Insanity
Matrices, Circles, and Eigenthings
Lunar Shadows

MSRI Reflections

It happened on a typically foggy morning soon after I had arrived at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) in Berkeley, Calif. Glancing out my office window at the waves of mist swirling around the building, I caught a glimpse of a herd of goats. Confined within a temporary fence, the goats were busily chomping on thick clumps of yellow grass and the green leaves of scraggly bushes scattered across the steep hillside down below.

Part of an effort to reduce the risk of fire sweeping through the Berkeley hills, the goats served as natural grass eliminators, able to go where no lawn mower dare venture.


The view, on a misty day, from the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, Calif., down to the Lawrence Hall of Science and beyond to San Francisco Bay.

There's even more to see in the brilliant sunshine of a Berkeley summer afternoon. About 230 steps down the hill from MSRI via several narrow parking lots and sets of stairs is the Lawrence Hall of Science, which itself overlooks the domed accelerator facility and other buildings of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. From there, many more steps take you down to the main campus of the University of California, Berkeley. San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge glint in the distance.

Housed in a three-story structure clad in weathered dark-brown wood, MSRI occupies a spectacular location—longitude 122 degrees, 14 minutes, 23 seconds west; latitude 37 degrees, 52 minutes, 49 seconds north; elevation 1,260 feet above sea level. In such a setting, it isn't difficult to imagine MSRI as an important center of the mathematical world.


Ivars Peterson at the entrance to the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, August 1999.

Indeed, the institute's programs, conferences, and workshops attract mathematicians from all over the world. Some stay just for a few days; others spend a semester or more at the center, often focusing on some hot topic in mathematical research. In the fall of 1999, after my stay at MSRI, attention shifted to the specialized fields of noncommutative algebra and Galois groups.

"For the semester that we're running a program, we like to think ... that we are usually the strongest center in the world in the field," noted David Eisenbud, then MSRI director, as quoted in a 1999 article in SIAM  News.

The idea is to gather a diverse group of mathematicians representing, when possible, different approaches to and interests in a given topic. In some cases, physicists and other scientists join in the discussions and presentations. The resulting interactions turn such programs into exciting learning experiences for everyone involved, as they did in the spring 1999 session on random matrices, which had links to both number theory and quantum mechanics (see "The Mark of Zeta").

In many ways, MSRI programs represent an effort to overcome the fragmentation of mathematical research into private conversations and highly specialized endeavors accessible only to a handful of experts.

It's not unusual to hear a variety of accents and languages when MSRI members and visitors compare notes and trade tips. Each office has a blackboard (and plenty of chalk). Additional blackboards are strategically located in the atrium, along corridors, and even outdoors in the patio, ever ready to bear the scribblings that inevitably accompany an impromptu seminar.


Ivars Peterson in his MSRI office, August 1999.

Even in an age of instant communication via email, telephone, fax, and the Internet, nothing beats face-to-face encounters—at a blackboard or over a table—to work things out. Afternoon teatime, in particular, draws people out of their offices and away from their solitary pursuits.

Remarkably often during my three-month 1999 sojourn at MSRI, I witnessed a mathematician standing at the ubiquitous blackboard, coffee cup or cookie in one hand and chalk in the other, answering a question or patiently explaining some new mathematical wrinkle to interested bystanders. A book could be written about mathematical advances that came about because of chance encounters at afternoon tea (see "The Return of Zeta").

The skylights, floor-to-ceiling windows, white walls, gray carpeting, and potted bamboo plants create a subdued environment pleasantly conducive to mathematical thought and interchange. "It's a nice place to work," Eisenbud insisted, gently understating the pleasure he took at being at the institute.

A noncirculating library with an extensive array of journals, a quirky collection of old and new books, and an assortment of mathematical games and puzzles provides handy reference material and entices the mind. Members can also glance at the morning New York Times or the latest issues of Nature, Science, Science News, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Scientific American, American Scientist, Communications of the ACM, and The Nation.

Some MSRI efforts reflect the enormous need for programs that bridge the gap between mathematics and the other sciences and foster interdisciplinary approaches. In 1999-2000, for example, MSRI featured workshops devoted to mathematics and imaging, the future of mathematical communication, quantum computation, and computational biology and genome analysis.

The summer of 1999 saw the introduction of an annual two-week program for graduate students interested specifically in the application of mathematics. The subject of that first course was nonlinear dynamics of low-dimensional continua, and students had a chance to try out their understanding of both mathematical model and physical theory in simulation projects ranging from microfluidic mixing to turbulent convection and pattern formation in liquids (see "Row Your Boat"). The summer 2000 course focused on mathematical issues in molecular biology.

Even during a lengthy hike (led by intrepid outdoorsman David Eisenbud) into nearby Tilden Regional Park for a lunchtime picnic and barbecue, the students taking the summer course continued to puzzle over their projects, in between comparing experiences at different universities, exchanging gossip, telling travel tales, and pondering job prospects. Those conversations, too, represent an affirmation of the collaborative nature of contemporary mathematical research.

Mathematical outreach can extend to all sorts of audiences. In July 1999, a class of high school math students visited MSRI to learn a little about what mathematicians do and what makes them tick. From Hugo Rossi, just ending his term as MSRI deputy director, they obtained a glimpse of both the immense appeal and inevitable frustrations of mathematical research at the frontiers of thought. They even got a brief lesson in the curious arithmetic of the ancient Egyptians.

The students also saw an impressively dramatic demonstration of juggling with balls and clubs, performed by Joe Buhler, about to start his stint as MSRI deputy director. They got a feel for the combinatorics of juggling—how numbers can be used to represent different juggling patterns (see "Juggling by Design"). To their delight, the students discovered they could, in addition, tap into some of the mathematical talent on display to glean hints on how to handle homework problems involving slope (rise over run) and linear equations.

MSRI offers more for the mind than mathematics. Special art exhibitions add provocative color and form to the white walls and the space within the high-ceilinged atrium. The summer 1999 display featured the collage-style work of Berkeley artist Mari Marks Fleming—visually rhythmic speculations on "time, nature, and the space between."

A more permanent fixture is an artwork by mathematician and sculptor Helaman Ferguson. Called The Eightfold Way, the sculpture sits in the middle of the patio, framed by a backdrop of hills, pines, and eucalyptus trees.


The Eightfold Way by Helaman Ferguson.

Carved from a block of Vermont white marble, the roughly tetrahedral form rests on a black serpentine column. Covered with mysteriously indented curves and sinuous ridges, the sculpture invites comment and touch.

My final image is of a late-afternoon concert in the atrium—sunlight streaming through the skylights to illuminate the members of the Peregrine Trio and of the sublime music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn sailing throughout the building. It seemed a fitting finale to a stimulating summer spent immersed in a world devoted to the pursuit of mathematics.

Originally posted August 30, 1999.