posted November 5, 2007

Tim Pennings and Elvis to Present at Conference

 Dr. Tim Pennings of the Hope College mathematics faculty and his Welsh Corgi Elvis will discuss canine calculus cunning during a conference in Boston, Mass., on Saturday, Nov. 10.

They will be the featured keynote speakers during the annual "Research by Undergraduates in Mathematics Boston University Symposium" (RUMBUS). The event is a forum for area undergraduates to come together and share their research in a poster session, and will be attended by students from multiple Boston-area institutions, including Boston University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The symposium is intended for an audience at any mathematical level, including school students and teachers, college concentrations regardless of major, postgraduates, faculty and the interested public.

While playing fetch with Elvis at Lake Michigan some years ago, Pennings, who is a professor of mathematics, noted that his dog instinctively calculated the optimal route for minimal retrieval time when going after the tennis ball when Pennings threw it diagonally into the water from the shore line.

Elvis could choose from among three general options: hop into the water immediately and swim straight for the ball, the shortest route but slow because it involves swimming the greatest distance; run along the shore until opposite the ball and then swim after it, yielding the shortest amount of time in the water but involving more time running; or run along the shore partway and then swim for the ball. With a repeated trials and a handy tape measure, Pennings found that Elvis chose the ideal jump-off point - using the third option - every time.

In the years since Pennings and Elvis have shared their experience with a variety of audiences as an accessible way of highlighting a serious mathematical concept. They have been featured by multiple news organizations and in professional publications, including the BBC and as the cover story of the May 2003 issue of "The College Mathematics Journal." Pennings, accompanied by Elvis, has also given multiple talks at area schools. In January 2004 they presented a seminar during the college's "Winter Happening" event.

The topic has been a natural for Pennings, who specializes in mathematical modeling -- the way in which mathematics describes natural phenomena. As a teacher, he has also appreciated having a new opportunity to relate his discipline to everyday experience.

During the conference Pennings and Elvis will be featured during two keynote events. In the morning they will make a presentation concerning Elvis's routing while seeking the ball from shore-side. In an afternoon discussion they will present Elvis's response to a different situation: determining the optimal route to the ball if he is already in the water - whether it's best to swim all the way to the ball, or instead to swim to shore, run along the shore and then to swim back out to the ball.

In its descriptions of both presentations, the conference schedule notes, "Elvis will be available for follow-up questions."