McCartin to receive Chauvenet

Oct 12, 2009

Kettering University's Dr. Brian McCartin will receive the prestigious 2010 Chauvenet Prize for Mathematical Expository Writing from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) for his writings on e.

A self-proclaimed man-e-ac for the mathematical constant e, Dr. Brian McCartin, professor of Applied Mathematics at Kettering University, is living the dream of many a mathematician – he has been slated to receive the prestigious 2010 Chauvenet Prize for Mathematical Expository Writing, given by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).

“This is the sort of thing one dreams about but does not dare confess to dreaming about,” said McCartin of the award, which he described as the mathematical equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize, for those unfamiliar with the heady world of advanced mathematics.

“Even my best friends can’t believe I’m on the list (of Chauvenet winners),” he said of the honor. “I was thunderstruck when I was notified I had received this award.”

He was chosen as the 2010 recipient of the Chauvenet Prize for his article “e: The Master of All” published in the Mathematical Intelligencer Spring 2006 edition, a publication of Springer Science and Business Media, Inc.

e is a mathematical constant that “burst into existence in the early 17th Century in the context of commercial transactions involving compound interest,” according to McCartin’s article. “For people proficient at math, e is the king,” said McCartin, describing the gist of his article as an in-depth explanation of how e “beats the crap out of Π!”

e = 2.718281828459045 . . . was first discovered as the solution to the problem: How much is $1 worth if it is invested for 10 years at 10% interest? Since its discovery, it has been used in a variety of applications that include the scheduling of radiation therapy treatments, the definition of equiangular spirals like the one used to begin the

Yellow Brick Road

in the Wizard of Oz movie, and computing the probability of the “drunken secretary problem.” The latter involves a scenario in which, after a few too many spiked eggnogs at the company Christmas party, a tipsy secretary is confronted with n different letters and corresponding envelopes. The probability that she will produce a “derangement whereby no letter is placed in the correct envelope” can be calculated with e, according to McCartin.

After many years of reading what he calls “outstanding mathematical exposition,” McCartin said the idea for “e: The Master of All” came to him after reading Eli Maor’s 1994 book “e: The Story of a Number.” “Long a man-e-ac, I devoured this book but found that many of my favorite triv-e-a were missing!” he joked.

He began systematically collecting these miscellan-e-a, sending the completed manuscript to the Mathematical Intelligence in 2005. After publication in the Intelligencer, the article was translated into Mandarin by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2007 for use in math education in China and is required reading for math teachers there.

To qualify for the Chauvenet Prize, an expository article must have been published for at least two years. The prize consists of a $1,000 monetary award and a certificate, and is normally awarded at the Annual Meeting of the Association, which this year will be held in San Francisco in January. Due to health restrictions that prevent him from traveling, McCartin will receive the Prize at the Regional meeting of the MAA in Ypsilanti, Mich.

First awarded in 1925, the Prize is named for William Chauvenet, a professor of mathematics at the United States Naval Academy. It was established through a gift in 1925 from J.L. Coolidge, then MAA president. Winners of the Chauvenet Prize are among the most distinguished of mathematical expositors.

McCartin has earned degrees in both Applied Mathematics from the University of Rhode Island and Music Theory from the Hartt School of Music of the University of Hartford. He holds a doctorate in Applied Mathematics from the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences of New York University. He was a senior research mathematician for United Technologies Research Center and chair of Computer Science at RPI/Hartford before joining Kettering University.

No stranger to professional recognition, McCartin received Kettering’s Outstanding Researcher Award in 2000, and the Outstanding Teaching award in 2001 and again in 2006. The Michigan Section of the MAA recognized him with their Award for Distinguished University Teaching in 2004, and in 2008 he was Plenary Lecturer at the First American Conference on Applied Mathematics held at Harvard University.

McCartin serves on the Editorial Board of the international journal Applied Mathematical Sciences and is a Fellow of the Electromagnetics Academy. He published his first book “Rayleigh-Schrödinger Perturbation Theory: Pseudoinverse Approach” (Hikari Ltd.) in 2009.

Interesting triv-e-a about McCartin: He is a devoted Yankees fan, and his wife, Barbara McCartin, creates all the line illustrations for his writings. For exponentially more triv-e-a about him, visit his web page at

Written by Dawn Hibbard