VictorDonnay of Bryn Mawr College makes mathematics engaging during 2015 SENCER Summer Institute

Mathematics Predicts Our Climate May Be Headed for a Tipping Point

Why is the climate like a billiard game? This isn’t a riddle from Alice in Wonderland, but a question Dr. Victor J. Donnay used math to help answer.

This summer, Victor, who is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Chair of Mathematics at Bryn Mawr College, worked with TED-Ed to create a short animated video on the mathematics of climate change. In the video, titled “Our Chaotic Climate,” chaotic billiard motion explains how a two-degree increase in Earth’s average temperature can lead to substantial consequences, including “more extreme and intense weather events, less predictability, and … less hospitability to human life.”

“Our Chaotic Climate” is a good example of how mathematics can help us understand the most complex and compelling civic issues of our time. Consider the video’s closing comments:

The hypothetical models that mathematicians study in detail may not always look like actual situations, but they can provide a framework and a way of thinking that can be applied to help understand the more complex problems of the real world. In this case, understanding how slight changes in the constraints impacting a system can have massive impacts gives us a greater appreciation for predicting the dangers that we cannot immediately perceive with our own senses, because once the results do become visible, it may already be too late.

In addition to creating educational videos, Victor has appeared on G-town Radio, and his Ordinary Differential Equations in Real World Situations course was selected as a SENCER Model in 2008. He currently serves as an advisory board member for NCSCE’s Engaging Mathematics initiative.

To access the video, along with accompanying educational resources, click here.

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