Y'gotta parabolam?

Prof dares to be differential

- August 23, 2007

Dr. Richard Nowakowski
Math professor Richard Nowakowski enjoys games involving patterns and logic. (Pearce photo)

It takes an hour for Math professor Richard Nowakowski to walk from his house on WilliamÕs Lake Road to Dalhousie Ñ time to keep mind and body in top form.

ÒOnce it took six weeks of walking into work and thinking about this math problem before I finally understood what my subconscious was trying to tell me,” he explains, smiling at the memory.

ÒI get this little rush of adrenalin when my subconscious has started to reach out to the solutionÉ I can see thereÕs some kind of answer coming out.”

Dr. NowakowskiÕs love of mathematics is infectious. An enthusiastic teacher, he manages to make math not only fun but truly exciting for his students. Math is more than number crunching, he believes, itÕs also about observation and finding patterns and symmetry.

ÒMath has a lot of creativity,” says Dr. Nowakowski, who started teaching at Dalhousie 28 years ago. ÒThatÕs why I like to have students come to the board and present their approaches. IÕm always surprised Ñ ÔWhy didnÕt I think of that?Õ”

The 55-year-old professor was recently named the winner of the Canadian Math SocietyÕs Adrien Pouliot Award, a national award recognizing individuals whoÕve made significant and sustained contributions to mathematics education in Canada. HeÕll pick up the prize at the societyÕs 2007 meeting in London, Ont. in December.

Dr. NowakowskiÕs enthusiasm for mathematics extends beyond the classroom. For the past four years, heÕs been instrumental in setting up Math Circles, monthly puzzle-solving and pizza parties for high school students, and the Math League, a year-long series of math competitions also for high school students which culminates in a provincial final.

ÒWe get a variety of kids coming out Ñ and not just the A+ students,” says Dr. Nowakowski, who's research is focused on graph theory. In his spare time, he enjoys mulling over cryptic crosswords and the Japanese strategy game Play Go. ÒThe students come up with really unexpected types of solutions.”

Through the 1980s and 90s, Dr. Nowakowski was a leader with the Canadian Mathematical Olympiad and the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). Through his involvement, he traveled to Australia, Germany, China, Hong Kong and Argentina.

The spark for all this extracurricular mathematics hinges on a mistake Ñ as an undergraduate student at the University of Calgary, he misunderstood a question assigned by his professor and spent all night trying to figure it out. Instead of the three-line solution his professor expected, the young Nowakowski handed in a sheet of paper covered with his scrawl.

But his professor liked what he saw and eventually had it published in a research journal. And professor and student continue to collaborate in finding a solution to a related problem.

ÒIt gave me really good insight into how much fun you can have doing math at a really high level.”

Twisters, puzzles and games

ThereÕs often a traffic jam outside of Dr. Richard NowakowskiÕs office in the Chase Building as people linger to ponder the puzzles and games in logic and reasoning taped to his door. Can you figure them out?

1.  Twisters: Twisters are different words composed of the same letters.

a)  airplane maneuvers
b)  single-masted sailboat
c)  small bodies of water
d)  cylinder for thread

a)  prayer ending
b)  appellation
c)  horseÕs neck hair

a)  kind of cheese
b)  woman (slang)
c)  Old English beverage
d)  Manufactured

2.  Example: 7 D of the W. Answer 7 days of the week.

a)  12 S of the Z
b)  54 C in a D (including Js)
c)  8 P in our S S
d)  76 T led the B P

e)  7 B for 7 B
f)  101 D

3. Example:                  
isÒmisunderstanding”  (miss under standing)





e)   MAN



h)            O
    PHD  BS   BA

4. English translation: Common sayings all dressed up in Òsupercalifragalistic” camouflage.

a)  Pulchritude possesses solely cutaneous profundity.
b)  Members of avian species of identical plumage congregate.
c)  It is fruitless to become lachrymose over precipitately departed lacteal fluid.
d)  Freedom from incrustations of grime is contiguous to divinity.
e)  Male cadavers are incapable of yielding any testimony.
f)  Individuals who make their abode in vitreous edifices would be advised to refrain from catapulting petrous projectiles.


1. Twisters

a) loops
b) sloops
c) pools
d) spool

a) amen
b) name
c) mane

a) edam
b) dame
c) mead
d) made


2. 7 Days of the Week

a) 12 signs of the Zodiac
b) 54 cards in a deck (including jokers)
c) 8 planets in our solar system
d) 76 trombones led the big parade
e) 7 brides for 7 brothers
f) 101 dalmations

3. Misunderstanding

a) Head over heels in love
b) Double exposure
c) A stitch in time
d) Six feet under ground

e) Man overboard
f) Tricycle
g) Few and far between
h) Three degrees under zero

4. English translations

a) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
b) Birds of a feather stick together
c) DonÕt cry over spilled milk
d) Cleanliness is next to godliness
e) Dead men don't talk
f) People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones


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