Students put numbers into words

Students put numbers into words

While math may seem mundane, Rowan University professor Tom Osler finds projects for his students that create excitement through discovery.

Currently, Osler is helping some of his students translate the works of famous Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler from French, German and Latin into English.

The task isn't easy. The students are tackling grammar and mathematics symbols from the 18th century while exploring Euler's methods.

"Professors like to show that mathematics has a beating heart," Osler said.

Euler published 866 scholarly papers, and only 65 of them have been translated into English. His work makes up a full quarter of all the papers published in science and mathematics during the 18th century, Osler said.

The idea for the project came when Osler began looking at Euler's work when it became available online, via a Dartmouth University Web site dedicated to the mathematician.

Osler could only guess what the text said, based on the equations he saw.

He then found that one of his students, Lucas Willis, had taken French, so he gave Willis the challenge of translating it. The product of Willis' work was published on the Dartmouth Web site during the summer.

"Modernizing it is the biggest challenge," said Willis, a senior majoring in physics and mathematics.

"You need to understand the mathematics going on," said Osler, who added that his students have "the opportunity to contribute to a mathematic body of language."

The students are also being exposed to different concepts from the 18th century, when mathematicians were more imaginative in their work, Osler said.

"It's like uncovering," said senior Kristen McKeen, who is translating a French paper.

Walter Jacob, a junior, will use his skills in Latin to translate another Euler paper. The project will give him a glimpse at how Euler developed the many ideas he's known for today, he said.

According to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, Euler is "widely credited for introducing and popularizing modern notation and terminology, particularly in analysis."

The students' work will gain even more exposure for Rowan when the international mathematics community celebrates the 300th anniversary of Euler's birth next year.

"People will be able to access your translation . . . and not have to worry about translating it," Jacob said.

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Date Published: Thursday, October 19, 2006 - 01:00
Source URL: Courier-Post