Dr. VanDieren’s Mathematical Infinities

        “What do tinker toys, laws, and hotels have in common?” Professor VanDieren asked. As it turns out, quite a bit, if the laws and hotels are mathematical laws and hotels. The tinker toys were used as an introduction to the presentation: we had to build several different structures following various rules, such as “no red pieces can be used” or “you may only use purple and yellow pieces.” We used these laws to create models, and we were continuously subjected to more laws that forced us to adapt our structuring techniques and ultimately change the models. Once we had built enough models, Professor VanDieren explained how mathematicians also use laws to create models, just as we had done with the tinker toys—of course, mathematicians have much more complex rules and models to adhere to.

        With the hands-on part completed and understood, the presentation then moved onto the arithmetic-heavy ideas: we were presented with the idea of an infinite hotel and how laws regarding infinite models were used to create it. This led smoothly into Professor VanDieren’s explanation of her own work in the field of models and infinity. It was extremely impressive and very abstract, but her headway in the field has been significant. Not only has she worked for years on theorems concerning this concept, but she has also posited the idea of “tameness” in infinite models, setting the foundation for many other mathematicians to be able to delve into the field.

        The presentation was intriguing – but very abstract, and ended with Professor VanDieren giving us a sample of one of her ongoing models. It was neat to be able to learn about high-level mathematics, and Professor VanDieren even said she’d be willing to give an encore presentation if anyone else is interested! Anyone with the slightest interest in math should definitely hear her presentation; it’s unlike anything you will ever encounter anywhere.

– Brittany Burmester


If elevators, why not Autonomous Vehicles?

        Isn’t it scary to think about the dangers associated with elevators, despite the universal trust that the human race has in them? Why should we trust a box that, with the aid of several pulley systems, transports us from floor to floor without any reliance on human control after it’s designed? Elevators have proven themselves to be reliable pieces of technology; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, elevators contribute to an estimated 27 deaths out of the average 18 billion trips they take per year. This makes the risk of dying per trip 0.00000015%!

        If we can trust elevators, why can’t we trust autonomous vehicles (AV)? AV’s are programmed with sensors on all sides, making them aware of any anomalies on and off the road. AVs also have advanced algorithmic decision-making software to give them the artificial intelligence on when to break, drive extra cautiously, etc. We already trust the car to work on its own in some aspects. Many modern cars have automatic parking settings, as many people don’t feel comfortable parking on their own. Other settings such as “hill-assist”, built-in GPS’s, and even automatic transmission allow technology to make our lives easier in regards to driving. The closest threshold to allowing the car full control is the “cruise” mode. If we give our cars the power to maintain speed without our input, why can’t we trust it to steer and brake too?


        As Courtney Ehrlichman, cofounder of Roadbotics, stated at the roundtable, “It’s not whether AVs are going to make it onto the roads, because that has already become a reality. It is going to happen.” She also mentioned that AVs may have full control over the road by 2040. Time for us to learn to trust AVs for society’s convenience and benefit, don’t you think?

– Kyle Bellhorn

My Substantial Experiences Participating in the “Wicked Problem Innovation Hack-a-thon”

        I was recently granted the privilege to participate in the 2nd Annual Robert Morris University “Hack-a-thon”. This year’s “Wicked Problem Innovation Hack-a-thon” focused on an issue close to home: Pittsburgh’s Lead Crisis. Interdisciplinary teams of three to four students were tasked with developing an innovative solution to mitigate the societal effects of water contamination in the city. Teams were given a basic introduction to the problem, then were left alone to complete their background research and develop an original solution. Our problem was a multi-dimensional “wicked” problem: our solution needed to include both short and long-term components and alleviate the problem’s effects on Pittsburgh residents from all walks of life. When the week was up, the groups presented their solutions to a panel of judges made up of RMU faculty.

        I very much appreciated this opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary team with other undergraduates. Being given only a week to research the situation and prepare a response required us to communicate efficiently and cooperate well together. This was actually the second year I participated in RMU’s “Hack-a-thon”; my favorite part of the competition was, once again, being a part of a team whose members recognized their talents and contributed in different ways according to their varied areas of expertise. The RMU “Hack-a-thon” is a joy to participate in and has given me experience I would not have otherwise obtained as an undergraduate. I look forward to future “Wicked Problem Innovation Hack-a-thon’s” and encourage other RMU students to participate in the future as we continue to solve “wicked” problems.


– Cheri McChesney

Roundtable with Pine-Richland School Board Director Dr. Benjamin Campbell

Just yesterday, RMU Engineering professor, Dr. Ben Campbell, presented his pathway to being elected as Democratic School Board Director of the Pine-Richland educational system.  He lectured a large group of students on both the stresses and profound fulfillments of running for local office.  Campbell touched on a healthy variety of aspects of campaigning on the local level – from his promotion trials regarding yard signs, as well as the financial and social challenges that came his way.  Media dispersal proved very important to his campaign, he emphasized, and he went even further to advise the students to really take advantage of the social media platforms we have at our disposal when attempting to network and/or promote anything and everything.  This lecture was presented in Hopwood Hall, with very useful visual information shown to compliment Dr. Campbell’s verbal advice.

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– Selene Cerankosky

Honors Stars, Planets, and Cosmos 7th Annual Symposium

This previous Tuesday, December 5th, Dr. Kenneth LaSota’s GEOL1095 class of 14 students put on the course’s annual assigned Research Symposium.  This year’s topic was on Animals In Space, and the class put on quite an entertaining show!  Playing roles as both Soviet and American test animals, NASA scientists, show hosts and PETA protesters, the classmates presented an engaging and informational skit that had the audience laughing and applauding frequently.

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Dr. Kristjanpoller’s Lecture on the Bitcoin

        On Tuesday, October 31, 2017, Professor Werner Kristjanpoller of Universidad Tecnica Federico Santa Maria (UTFSM) in Chile came to speak to us at RMU. A professor of the Industrial Engineering Department at his school, Mr. Kristjanpoller gave an interesting lecture that demonstrated his vast financial knowledge and impressive linguistic skills, despite English not being his native tongue. Throughout his speech, he explained the history of currency, the concept of cryptocurrency, and the positives and negatives of using Bitcoin as a gold standard in the future.

        Originally, when precious metals such as gold were discovered, they were used to create coins. However, because these coins were quite heavy to carry in large quantities, gold “stores” were established. This gold reserve was instigated to ‘back’ the coins in the market with a value everyone trusted; this method was essential to the survival of currency. During the Great Depression, however, many businesses had to declare bankruptcy and sell their gold reserves. When the Depression ended, trusts and bonds were created to replace the need for literal gold to supply the Gold Standard.

        In 2009, the idea of cryptocurrency was proposed. This concept of virtual money creating an initiative for miners to enhance the currency was a breakthrough that sought decentralization. Passwords and codes specific to individuals cannot be traced to an organization or government. Cryptocurrency only generates a number of previously defined units at a rate that is limited by initially established and publicly known value; consequently, the Bitcoin will reach a maximum potential and cap out at some point. A fixed quantity of currencies could be used to avoid inflation. Since 2009, 800 currencies have been created.


        Professor Kristjanpoller then discussed the advantages and disadvantages of using Bitcoin. Several positive aspects include payments that are easy, convenient, secure, irreversible and unaffiliated with any centralized organization or government control. Additionally, there is less risk of fraud because Bitcoin exchanges do not contain personal information or private data. Bitcoin exchanges are neutral and transparent as well, as all information is available in the block chain to anyone who wishes to access it. Some disadvantages of Bitcoin are that many people are still unaware of the concept of cryptocurrency, Bitcoin is still a developing system composed largely of still incomplete features and the total value of Bitcoins in circulation and number of businesses using Bitcoin is very small compared to the potential.

        Overall, I greatly enjoyed this lecture because I was interested to learn more about what Bitcoin is, and I wanted to be more aware of how technology will change our future financially. Professor Werner Kristjanpoller did an excellent job explaining currency and Bitcoin in basic, logical terms to a group primarily composed of intrigued college students.

– Katie Bryant

Political Science Symposium

        The “100 Years of Russian – U.S. Relations Panel” has been one of my favorite events I have attended on campus thus far. The discussion was not only informative, but incredibly varied concerning perspective. The Russian Revolution was discussed (which is marking its hundred year anniversary soon) as well as how this event dramatically changed Russian – U.S. relations and has guided us as two superpowers to the present day. Beyond that, the speakers went in-depth on current Russian – U.S. affairs, the major roadblocks in our respective ideologies, and key diplomatic flashpoints in each of our histories.

        The main aspect of the panel that I appreciated was the varying views that were brought to the table. From Dan Kovalik’s focus on failed U.S. policy and interventions to Dr. Daniel Kempton’s views on the Soviet Union’s involvement in Africa. Dr. Katja Wetzel provided a unique middle ground since she is German who lived in East Germany and witnessed firsthand life under Communist rule. The variation of views made for an incredibly balanced and deep discussion. In the end, despite opposing opinions, the speakers all shook hands, concluding a wonderful Political Science Symposium.

– Ian Stubbs