Truth, Beauty and Equations Cory Colbert invites his students into a brilliant and beautiful universe full of symmetries and mysteries.
“There’s a lot about mathematics that we don’t understand, and exploring that world is satisfying to me.”
~ Cory Colbert, assistant professor of mathematics
WHAT’S FUN ABOUT MATH?
I actually failed math in sixth grade. I struggled with it. But I’ve always been curious, and when I heard about this thing called calculus, I wondered what it was. A teacher told me how it could be used to measure the rate of flow from a water fountain. That was my “wow” moment. I started reading more about the subject and decided I wanted to study it in college.
Math is really beautiful and fun. It’s fun to work on an interesting problem and find a really pretty, pretty way to solve it. I’m motivated by beautiful, elegant solutions to problems, even if they’re complicated. There are many approaches to try:
“I tried squaring this thing and that doesn’t work” or “I tried thinking of it as a function and that doesn’t quite work, but, oh, if you think of it as this other structure, you’ll see a really nice picture.” Much of mathematics is really abstract, and you’re just in your own universe. It’s really wild sometimes — when you’re working on a problem you feel this universe has a mind of its own. There’s a lot about mathematics that we don’t understand, and exploring that world is satisfying to me.
TRUTH, BEAUTY AND EQUATIONS
It’s sad that a lot of Americans don’t get to share in the beauty of mathematics. It’s as if there is this big, beautiful, gorgeous art museum that they’ll never walk in and see and appreciate. Across the country, mathematics is taught with the perspective of getting students into calculus so they can get good grades and get into a good college. When you take that route, you bypass a lot of the wonderful things you can do without having a calculus background. You can prove that the sum of two even integers, no matter how large, is always even without knowing anything about a limit or a derivative or an integral.
I love teaching mathematics. It really is one of my favorite things in the world to do. I know our students struggle with it, but they actually know more than they think they do. They come from different backgrounds and are transitioning into a new phase of their life. They just need to find their groove. I believe everyone has the ability to learn and do good mathematics. My goal as a teacher is to help students reach their maximum potential, to build their confidence and empower them. My courses are known to be intense, but ultimately — hopefully — rewarding.
My current research interests are in classical commutative algebra, with a focus on Noetherian spectra, and how that connects to other areas. Fundamentally, I’m trying to understand some connections between algebra and geometry. On the surface, there are equations in one world and shapes in another. At first, they might seem like very different objects. But when you think about how you can plot points in space that satisfy a given equation to generate a shape or how you can try to model a given shape in space with a mathematical equation, you realize that there is a very neat correspondence between the two worlds.
“Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem,” by Simon Singh. It’s a beautiful history of the problem and gives you a sense of why we love mathematics and why it is really fun.
Outside the Classroom
Colbert is an avid flight simulation enthusiast, having logged more than 700 offline hours across several different platforms, including FSX and X-Plane. His favorite cross-country, twin-engine aircraft is the Airbus A320/1 series, and his favorite long-haul aircraft is tied between the B789 series and the A350 XWB series. He’s also an executive chief captain on Alliance Airways.
Since 2014, Colbert has been involved with BEAM, a residential summer mathematics program designed for seventh graders from under-served middle schools from across the country.