Imaginary Numbers and Four Dimensions Lecture

By on March 9, 2005

Try to imagine imaginary numbers. Try envisioning the three-dimensional universe in its potential ten-dimension state. These multifaceted theories were among the many discussed during Professor Jill Shahverdian’s presentation “Imaginary Numbers and Four Dimensions.”

The free lecture on March 3 was part of Sigma Xi’s “Women in Research” series. It included conversation on Dr. Shahverdian’s research and how it relates to other effects.
Dr. James Kirby is an assistant professor of chemistry and the program chair of the Quinnipiac chapter of Sigma Xi, a scientific research society. He said, “I am always looking for people on and off campus to speak on research issues because one of the goals of Sigma Xi is to let people know about science and learn about new research in their fields.” It is for this reason that Kirby asked Shahverdian to speak in the series.

Shahverdian, who earned her doctorate and master’s degrees from Northern Illinois University and her bachelor’s from Bates College, wrote her dissertation on the conceptual theory known as the “string theory”. With assistance from a PowerPoint presentation, Shahverdian explained the basics of the complicated and advanced scientific speculation.

Presently, the string theory is the most capable contender for describing a united explanation of the fundamental particles and forces in nature including gravity. Shahverdian compared the theory to a guitar string which is tuned by extending the string under tension across the guitar. The amount of tension and the way the string is pulled determines which different musical notes will be created by the string. In the string theory, the fundamental particles that are observed in particle accelerators could be looked at as a guitar’s musical note.

Rationalizing intricate concepts appear to be Shaverdian’s specialty. Sophomore mathematics major Jackie Kendrick is a student of Shahverdian. She said, “I really enjoyed her presentation. She does a very good job taking a complex idea and making it simple for anyone to understand, not just math majors and people who are interested in the specific branch of research. It keeps everyone interested in what she is saying.”

Through her hard work Shahverdian feels that she landed in the correct field of study.

“When I went to graduate school for math I did not have any idea of what I wanted to do. I just knew that I was pretty good at math and it interested me,” she said. “I found this great advisor and became interested in this very abstract theory called the string theory. I began to wonder how I could teach abstract ideas to students who have not had six years of math.”

Her fascination with the world led her to the work that she currently promotes. “I became very interested in reading and learning about the physics of mathematics as it gives you a way of talking and visualizing things. It gives you this idea of different dimensions and it is really neat to think maybe we have a 10-dimensional universe!” Shahverdian said.

Shaverdian’s research, interest and enthusiasm were transferred to her audience. Kendrick said, “I definitely enjoyed her presentation as it applied to a lot of things that I have looked into. It is fascinating to see how much you can progress from undergraduate through graduate study and extensive research.”

For further examination concerning the topics of imaginary numbers and dimensions Shahverdian advises reading The Elegant Universe written by Brain Greene and Flatland by Edwin Abbott.


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