Math Is for Aliens

dick forrester in his office

Dick Forrester in his office in Tome Hall, home of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. Photo by Tony Moore.

Office Hours: Dick Forrester, Professor of Mathematics and Data Analytics

by Tony Moore

Professor of Mathematics and Data Analytics Dick Forrester is the co-chair of the Department of Data Analytics. He earned his Ph.D. from Clemson University in mathematical sciences and has written numerous publications for peer-reviewed journals and three chapters for The Encyclopedia of Optimization. He teaches such courses as Operations Research and Analysis of Algorithms.

People say mathematics is a universal language, like we’d use it to communicate with aliens when they show up on Earth. What do you think of that theory, and why is Dickinson the place to learn how to speak it?

The fundamental principles of mathematics should be consistent across the cosmos, thereby making it a logical choice for interstellar communication. Dickinson is not yet offering Alien Communication 101, but we offer an excellent environment to master the language of mathematics. Our majors have recently been accepted into competitive research experiences (REUs), presented at conferences, collaborated with faculty on publications and secured internships at locations such as Bloomberg and the Mayo Clinic. Following graduation, some of our majors opt for advanced studies, while others chart impressive trajectories as actuaries, consultants and scientists. So whether you're reaching for the stars or staying grounded, the Dickinson mathematics program is a great launchpad!

As a mathematician and 6th-degree blackbelt in an obscure, terrifying form of street fighting, do you see your interest and skill in those pursuits as being connected in any way?

Oh, absolutely! My advanced analytical skills are perfect for calculating the precise angle to deliver a knockout roundhouse kick, while my martial-arts tactics prove remarkably effective in conquering nonlinear integer programs. But seriously, the common thread here is undeniable—both martial arts and mathematics demand discipline, hard work and a relentless pursuit of mastery. It's all about applying skill, knowledge and persistence to overcome challenges, whether it's in the dojo or the data-driven world.

You’ve been involved in Dickinson’s data analytics program since day 1. If you could use the discipline to solve one problem for humanity, what would it be? And don’t say anything about world peace, because that ain’t happenin’.

While I am personally interested in harnessing data analytics to solve the mystery of why McDonald's Diet Coke is so uniquely refreshing—is it the wide straw, CO2 volume or perhaps the syrup being stored in stainless-steel containers?—I think the discipline could be better used to improve healthcare outcomes. Envision a world where data-driven insights transform personalized treatments, prioritize early detection, minimize medical errors and streamline healthcare efficiency. Such a transformation holds the promise of making a difference in countless lives.


Published January 3, 2024