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David Semitekol

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Where do you use math in your profession?

One of the most difficult challenges that math teachers face today is motivating their students. This becomes more difficult when faced with the all famous question: "What am I going to use this for?"

Help me with some real world examples of modern day math. Please let me know your profession and what type of math you use to share with our students.

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Thank you everyone so much for the contributions! They are great and I wasn't expecting such a turn out. My goal is to gain enough examples and to use them at the start of each lecture. I'm hoping that these examples in the beginning of class will spark the student's interest for the reaming of the lecture and to show that that we really do use math.

There is a difference between having to learn something and wanting to learn something. When we have to learn it we just try to get through it. When we want to learn it, this is when we make breakthroughs. Stimulate the interest in students so that they want to learn math and we increase our probability in someone discovering the next breakthrough.

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    Feb 14 2012: Simpler forms of math are used by technicians in a variety of fields to perform diagnosis on complex systems. Understanding the mathematical relationships between variables allows one to determine potential causes by careful analysis of the effects.

    One example that comes to mind is a diagnosis I once made on a leaking compressed air system at a commercial facility. Compressed air was leaking out of the pipes somewhere in this expansive system, but we did not know where. We connected a pressure sensor to the main pipe and used a computer to graph pressure versus time. This revealed an inverse-exponential curve, which is precisely what you would expect if the air pressure at the leak were falling with time -- an air leak occurring at some location where the leak pressure was constant would produce a linear drop of main supply pressure over time (based on differentiating the Ideal Gas Law: dP/dt = dn/dt R T / V). We knew this system had pressure-regulated as well as unregulated segments to it, and from this analysis of the pressure drop we could tell the leak must have been in one of the unregulated segments of piping. This knowledge allowed us to eliminate large portions of the piping and focus our search on a smaller part of the system, to find the leak faster than if we searched the entire piping system.

    A subset of mathematics education is estimation. A person who can rapidly estimate quantities is able to apply basic arithmetic to a wide variety of problems in life (time to arrive at a destination, costs versus returns of financial decisions). An understanding of probability is crucial to making intelligent decisions involving risk and reward. As I like to tell my students, lotteries are a form of taxation on the math-illiterate.

    Simply put, math is a powerful tool for understanding the physical world around us. Who wouldn't want to have a powerful tool at their disposal to help them make good decisions in life?

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