Math Professor Wins Mathematical Association Award


MACON, Ga. – Dr. Margaret Symington, associate professor of mathematics, won the Mathematical Association of America's Trevor Evans Award for her article titled, “Euclid Makes the Cut,” which was published in the February 2012 edition of Math Horizons, a publication of MAA. According to MAA, the award is given to authors of expository articles that are accessible to undergraduates and published in Math Horizons.

In her humorous article, Symington challenges her readers to consider the relationship between two seemingly unrelated disciplines: geometric topology and dermatologic surgery. The article is accessible to anyone who has taken high-school geometry and it shows a direct and current application for one of the oldest mathematical subjects.

“This article exists because Dr. Joshua Lane, a dermatologic surgeon, understands that mathematics helps us see more deeply,” Symington said. “He did not need mathematics to help him in the operating room, but he correctly sensed that some interesting mathematics was lurking in his geometrically insightful choice to cut up and rearrange the pieces of a skin graft before sewing up a wound.”

For her article, Symington was awarded $1,000, which she accepted at the MMA's annual conference last summer. “I was amazed and excited to receive word that I had won the Trevor Evans Award,” Symington said. “I am grateful to the MAA for this generous recognition, and honored to be listed among so many mathematicians who I consider role models.”

Symington credits Dr. Lane, colleagues and a student for her success. “I feel lucky that Dr. Lane sought a mathematician, found me, engaged me in lots of brainstorming sessions, and led me to a gem of a problem,” she said. “I appreciate the work that my student Jonathan Crosby did to support our exploration of the geometry of bisected lenses and am grateful for the feedback that my colleagues Curtis Herink and Phillip Bean provided on preliminary drafts. Finally, I owe many thanks to Meg Dillon for making sure that the final draft was in top form.”

Symington studied mathematics and engineering at Brown University. She taught high school for two years before earning her Ph.D. in symplectic geometry and topology from Stanford University. After a post doc at the University of Texas, a visiting position at the University of Illinois, and an assistant professor position at Georgia Tech, she moved to Mercer where she has been on the faculty since 2005.

At Mercer, she joins faculty from all disciplines in teaching core general education courses that emphasize writing instruction ­and have nothing to do with mathematics. Currently, she is helping faculty develop their own variations of a core sophomore-level course in which students explore the topic of community from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.