Category Archives: Literature And Math

The Mathematics of the Black Panther


As part of Chalkdust Magazine‘s celebration of Black Mathematician Month 2018, Dr. Nira Chamberlain discusses one of Shuri’s creations in Marvel’s Black Panther movie; T’challa’s suit, which supposedly disperses energy from impact blows and absorbs the shock to minimize damage.  Is this mathematically possible?  Read on to find out!


Read the article linked above.

In a paragraph, describe what would have to be true about a suit that disperses kinetic energy in the way that Black Panther’s suit does in the movie.  A suit like that hasn’t been invented yet, but a mathematical model has been made.  Describe in your own words what characteristics that suit would have in order to make the energy dispersal possible.

In a second paragraph, think of some movie tech that doesn’t yet exist (choose a favorite movie that contains some sci-fi or futuristic element to it).  If you were to make a theoretical model of that tech, what type of mathematical and scientific questions would you have to address before attempting to build a prototype?  For T’challa’s suit, mathematicians had to determine how to disperse the shock of impact.  What would have to be mathematically feasible for different movie tech?  Be sure to tell me what movie and what tech you’re discussing!

Black Mathematicians & The Paths To Excellence

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Mathematician, educator, and Columbia University professor Erica N. Walker has published a book examining Benjamin Banneker, Thomas Fuller, and a whole host of more recent African-Americans who earned Ph.D’s in mathematics.

Read an interview with the author here:


Read the article linked above and answer the following questions in a couple of paragraphs.  What was the author’s motivation for writing this book?  What is one thing she wished white mathematicians knew about the experiences of black mathematicians in America?  What does Dr. Walker notice about the experiences of white and black women in mathematics?  Finally, what can white mathematicians do to help make the experience of black mathematicians in America a more positive one?

A Mathematical Analysis of Star Wars


Mathematician and data scientist Kirell Benzi has examined all the data from Star Wars fansite Wookiepedia and found some really interesting connections between eras, characters, the movies, and the expanded universe.

Check out the posts here:

Part 1:

Part 2:

(There are apparently more parts on the way.  I’ll post them here when they are posted on Kirell’s website)


Read at least one of the articles linked above fully.  Be familiar with all of them and what the different charts are measuring.  Pick your favorite Star Wars character (if you don’t have a favorite Star Wars character, why are you doing this badge?  Also…what’s wrong with you?)

Use the infographics and charts on the articles to mathematically anlyze your character.  Be sure to answer the following questions:  Explain how your favorite character’s race (alien or human) fits in the larger context of the story, especially compared to other alien races.  How does the era your character lived in compare to the other eras of the Star Wars universe?  What connections does this character have with other characters in the Star Wars universe?  What faction (Dark Side/Light Side) does your character belong to and how does he/she fit in the overall arc of that story.

Because you might find it tricky, I’ve included my response below.  Use it as a guideline.  You may not choose the same character that I chose.



Character:  Ahsoka Tano

Faction:  Jedi/Light Side

Era:  Clone Wars into the Rebellion

Race:  Togruta

Ahsoka Tano is a Jedi, padawan of Anakin Skywalker in his pre-Darth Vader years.  She is a Togruta, which are not one of the 10 most frequent species in the Star Wars stories.  Since humans make up 80% of those characters, and Togruta are not one of those top-10 species, it’s safe to say that Togruta are not very common in the Star Wars Universe.  Shaak-Ti (a Jedi knight during the Clone Wars) is the only other one I can think of off the top of my head.

Ahsoka was mainly an influential character during the Clone Wars (identified in the article as the “Rise of the Empire” era).  She was also around during the very beginnings of the Rebellion, though she presumably perished before the events in the first Star Wars movie took place.

The factions that Ahsoka would be most tied to from the faction graph are the Jedi Order, Coruscant Security Force, the Galactic Republic and the Grand Army of the Republic.   You’ll notice that these factions are connected, and Ahsoka would be one of the reasons.  Of the 15 most connected characters in the saga, Ahsoka would have major connections to:  Anakin Skywalker, Palpatine, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Dooku, Padme, and Yoda (40% of that list) with minor connections to Chewbacca and Jabba the Hutt (another 13%).  Along with Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin, Asohka is one of the main “bridges” between the Republic and the Rebellion.  Most other Jedi were killed by Order 66, so it makes sense there are so few bridge characters.

For someone not likely well known by anyone who hasn’t seen anything beyond the movies, Ahsoka is a well-connected character with influence on a great many major events in the saga.  In fact, she’s among the 20 most-connected characters according to the second article.  There are only 5 names of those 20 that don’t appear in the movies, and many of those have names that are common in the Saga (“Skywalker”, “Darth”, etc.)






The Poetry of Mathematics



…or is it the mathematics of poetry?

JoAnne Growney has collected a bunch of poems that relate to mathematics.  Check them out here, on her blog Intersections:


You should only attempt this badge after January of your 7th grade year at USN.  Ms. Earl has walked you through some tools for analyzing poetry and you are expected to use them to complete this badge.

Read the following poems, and perform the indicated analysis: –Annotate the end rhyme of this poem. Is it the same pattern in the original Italian? — Annotate the end rhyme.  Explain why this poem fits the “formula” for a sonnet. — Explain the theme of this poem, and explain why you think that is the theme. (Use title, first line, last line, other content, etc).

Finally, write your own math poem.





The Mathematics of Comic Book Cover Palettes


Two topics near and dear to my heart!  Comic Books and Mathematics.

The Wall Street Journal has looked at the colors used on the front covers of Avengers comics from the 1960s until today.  They plotted the colors used on a graph to show the transition from what was used then to what is used now.

Take a look at the chart here:


Read the brief article linked above.  Read the 6 comparison pieces at the top of the chart (underneath the brief article) and examine the pairs of covers.  Scan through the long chart that shows the colors from the 1960s until today.  Answer the following questions in a couple of paragraphs:

How would you describe the color palette used in the 1960’s?  How would you describe the color palette used today?  Was the transition sudden or gradual over that time period?  What do you think caused the color palette to shift over time?  What differences do you see on the 6 comparison covers besides the color palette?  Which era of comic book covers do you prefer and why?  What other mathematical analysis might you be able to make on comic book covers (be creative here – I want you to suggest another comic book cover analysis that the WSJ could do as a companion piece to this one)




Number Songs


There’s a new book out that attempts to rank all of the best “number songs” in the history of popular music (like the one above).

Check out a Top Ten list of “number songs” here.  How many have you heard before?


Read the article above and watch at least two of the music videos.  Write a paragraph for each explaining what makes it a good “number song” (you can borrow words from the writeup, but don’t just copy the author’s ideas).  Name a favorite number song not on the list (include the artist’s name) and explain in a paragraph what makes it a good “number song”.

I’ve included some of my favorite “number songs” in the comments.  Feel free to add yours.


The Home That Calculus Built

4242James Stewart was a millionaire and wrote the most popular calculus textbooks on the planet.  Before you wonder “How can that make someone a millionaire?!”…. have you seen the price of textbooks these days?

Anyhow, Mr. Stewart spent a good part of his fortune building The Integral House, a home in urban Toronto that pays homage to his first love, Calculus.

Mr. Stewart recently passed away, and The Integral House is for sale.  It can be yours for merely $22 million (but that’s in CANADIAN dollars; it’s considerably less when converted to US.  Probably close to only $15 million).

Simply put:  The Integral House is a stunning work of art.  See pictures and a video here:

BADGING:  Read the article above and watch the video.  Find and list at least 5 examples of mathematics in the architecture (include geometry, numeracy, or really anything that appears mathematical).  Then look at this information (<– link) on Integrals (the Calculus concept that the house was named for).  What do you see in the building of this house that reminds you of the picture at the top of the integral page and how does it relate to the concept of the integral?

The Imitation Game

Woohoo!  One of the best actors in the world playing one of the best mathematicians in history.  This one’ll be good.  What do you think?

BADGING:  GET PERMISSION FROM YOUR PARENTS TO WATCH THE IMITATION GAME (PG-13).  If they decline, there are plenty of other opportunities for you to get badges on this blog.  If they agree, watch the movie with them and write at least two paragraphs explaining what Alan Turing did during WW2 that affected the future of mathematics and calculations. (NOTE:  If you’ve already watched the movie for fun, this assignment has the expectation you will re-watch it so you can focus on the questions being asked in this assignment).