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Turning a Discipline into a Community

Kemeny Hall is more than the sum of its parts

"It is one of the most beautiful subjects created by mankind."
John G. Kemeny, 13th president of the College, on mathematics

Opened just one year ago, Kemeny Hall, the sparkling new home of the mathematics department, is reinvigorating a legendary Dartmouth discipline. It's a building that facilitates the study of mathematics in one inviting space. Daniel Rockmore, chair of the department and the John G. Kemeny Parents Professor in Mathematics, says, "It enables us to create a nexus for our intellectual community. Math is a collaborative discipline, and this building seamlessly integrates our activities."

Students in Kemeny Hall
Daniel Rockmore (left) meets with Thomas McDermott '09 in Kemeny Hall. Opened a year ago, the new facility houses the mathematics department. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

This fall semester, for example, Thomas McDermott '09, a James O. Freedman Presidential Scholar, worked in Kemeny's offices, laboratories, and even its hallways on his research project to track and correlate the currency exchange rates of 33 countries. Meanwhile, in the sunny classroom of Kemeny 105, students focused on weather patterns, studied swinging pendula, and used fractals to learn more about chaotic systems in Math 53: Chaos!, a new class taught by Assistant Professor of Mathematics Alexander Barnett. In Kemeny 004, a room specifically designed for small classes and seminars, 18 students dealt cards, rolled dice, and played dots and boxes, all while learning the logic behind combinatorial games in a new class taught by Peter Winkler, the Albert Bradley Third Century Professor in the Sciences.

After hours, Kemeny continues to buzz, whether it's a lecture on the Riemann hypothesis, a conference on discrete mathematics, or weekly meetings of the Dartmouth Math Society, the Association for Women in Mathematics, or the group practicing for the Putnam Mathematical competition. There are also events dedicated solely to having fun. Students gather over Sudoku and puzzles on Game Nights, and there is a Math and a Movie night once a term. (November's showing: Fermat's Last Tango.) "It's a great place to accomplish serious work, but there are also spaces for more informal events," says Yangyang Liu '09, president of the Math Society.

Students in Kemeny Hall
Graduate student Giulio Genovese and Yangyang Liu '09 solve a "wood frustration" puzzle during a Nov. 7 Game Night held in Kemeny Hall. (photo by Tilman Dette '10)

The lifelong possibilities that come from studying mathematics at Dartmouth are displayed throughout Kemeny, where recent guest speakers have included former math majors Kimball Halsey '83, president of Radius Capital Management, and Jennifer Prairie '04, a Ph.D. student in biological oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. In the undergraduate lounge, known as the Magnet, there are notes on display from Dartmouth alumni who are graduate students, computer programmers, advisors to investment banking firms, and teachers. "I found my math background supremely useful," reads a note from Michael Strong '04, an environmental lawyer in Chicago.

All this energy is translating into greater student engagement. The building stays open until 10:30 p.m. on weeknights, and the department's open house this fall had the highest attendance in recent memory. Rockmore says that he is proud the building is named after John Kemeny, the man who—among his many achievements—oversaw the College's transition to coeducation, rededicated Dartmouth to its mission of educating Native Americans, co-invented the BASIC computer language, and taught mathematics at Dartmouth for 37 years. "This wonderful space gives people a better feeling about being math majors, mathematicians, or just studying the subject," he says. "It's remaking Dartmouth's mathematics community."

By STEVEN J. SMITH

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Last Updated: 5/30/08