Mathematics Awareness Week - April 1999

Mathematics and Imaging

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What is Math Awareness Week?
Mathematics Awareness Week is held in late April each year to increase public understanding of and appreciation for mathematics. It began in 1986 with a proclamation by President Ronald Reagan, who said in part:
"Despite the increasing importance of mathematics to the progress of our economy and society, enrollment in mathematics programs has been declining at all levels of the American educational system. Yet the application of mathematics is indispensable in such diverse fields as medicine, computer sciences, space exploration, the skilled trades, business, defense, and government. To help encourage the study and utilization of mathematics, it is appropriate that all Americans be reminded of the importance of this basic branch of science to our daily lives."
In the first year, Mathematics Awareness Week concentrated on national-level events, such as opening an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution on mathematics and hosting a Capitol Hill reception. Since that time the focus has shifted to activities at the local, state, and regional levels. Over the years, the general purpose has consistently been to increase the visibility of mathematics as a field of study and to communicate the power and intrigue in mathematics to a larger audience.

Activities for Mathematics Awareness Week are generally organized by college and university departments, institutional public information offices, student groups, and related associations and interest groups. They have included a wide variety of workshops, competitions, exhibits, festivals, lectures, and symposia.

Each year, numerous proclamations for Mathematics Awareness Week are issued by elected officials, frequently in connection with special meetings and events arranged to observe the week. Media coverage has been consistent and positive.

The number and breadth of activities increases annually. For example, one college has now sponsored a high school mathematics day for seven years to encourage women to continue their studies in mathematics. Participation and support has increased each year. At one university in 1991, two departments - mathematics and architecture - cooperated to plan and produce an interactive traveling exhibit that provides hands-on experience for such topics as codes, tilings, chaos, geometry, graphs, and computer science. That exhibit was used as a model for a new mathematics exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Science and Industry. High schools are increasingly involved in Mathematics Awareness Week activities. One school held daily contests including a scavenger hunt and trivia quizzes. Other high school classes have appreciated lectures given by mathematics faculty from nearby institutions.

Each year a national theme is selected and theme materials are developed and distributed, in recent years using electronic vehicles. Summaries and results about each year's activities are collected each spring. New approaches and materials are considered each year.

To focus efforts and encourage participation, AMS, MAA and SIAM leaders, department chairs, selected high school teachers, public policy representatives, and leaders of related associations are sent Mathematics Awareness Week packets each year. Materials include visuals - a color poster and/or postcard, resource lists of materials available to supplement local activities, and media announcements which can be tailored to specific MAW events.

The results of Mathematics Awareness Week, as measured by available information, indicate that this observance reaches thousands of faculty, teachers, students of all ages, parents, and other community members, public policy leaders, and business persons.

    Themes of Mathematics Awareness Week
    • 1986 - Mathematics - The Foundation Discipline
    • 1987 - The Beauty and Challenge of Mathematics
    • 1988 - 100 Years of American Mathematics
    • 1989 - Discovering Patterns
    • 1990 - Communicating Mathematics
    • 1991 - Mathematics - IT'S Fundamental
    • 1992 - Mathematics and the Environment
    • 1993 - Mathematics and Manufacturing
    • 1994 - Mathematics and Medicine
    • 1995 - Mathematics and Symmetry
    • 1996 - Mathematics and Decision Making
    • 1997 - Mathematics and the Internet
    • 1998 - Mathematics and Imaging

Mathematics Awareness Month is sponsored each year by the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics to recognize the importance of mathematics through written materials and an accompanying poster that highlight mathematical developments and applications in a particular area.