Juggling the equation: Arts and Sciences event demonstrates math



By Kate Carpenter

Usually math professors cause students’ eyes to roll into the back of their heads, but not Professor Richard Ehrenborg. With his neatly parted hair and neatly pleated pants, one would never guess he was about to begin a lecture about the mathematics of juggling. Nor that graduate student Eric Clark would demonstrate how to juggle fire batons at the end of his lecture.

However, that was how Mathematics of Juggling, an event which was part of the Department of Arts and Sciences’ AweSome Week, went.

Drawing all the eight possible juggling patterns on a chalkboard in a Whitehall classroom, Ehrenborg wrote with speed and precision, never missing a dot or parabola on the patterns he was drawing.

“What do you know about eight?” he yelled across the classroom. Before even giving the classroom full of students a chance to answer, he yelled excitedly, “It’s two cubed!”

As he leaped on to the desk in front of the classroom, he continued on pulling stuff out of a box and a duffel bag next to him. Some of the items were articles from the New York Times, The Journal of Science and a huge red book he said came from the library.

“You find interesting things at the library, you all should go there more often,” he said, pulling the red book from his box.

Ehrenborg’s energy was contagious. The classroom of about 50 people watched to see what he would do or say next and saw him expertly juggle all sorts of items with hardly any mistake.

Starting with balls, Ehrenborg moved on to juggle clubs, then to apples and then to plastic bags.

Besides the entertainment of watching someone juggle, Ehrenborg told those in attendance that juggling has other benefits and encouraged everyone to learn to juggle.

He also told a joke about an interesting experiment with two control groups. One control group learned how to juggle, while the other did not.

“The control group that learned how to juggle grew more gray matter in the brain,” Ehrenborg said.

Just as his lesson ended for the day, Ehrenborg invited Clark to the stage and said “anything I can do, he can do better.”

As the audience intently stared at Clark, he proceeded to juggle large, sharp knifes, apples and then his finale — the juggling of fire batons. The students watched in amazement as he effortlessly threw fire around.

“There will be a quiz over this next Tuesday,” Ehrenborg said with a smile.