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The Queen of Mathematics and her Faithful Servant 

Dr. Kevser Aktas is on a mission to make theoretical mathematics applicable in the lives of non-mathematicians.

June 15, 2015

by Sharday Mosurinjohn

Kevser Aktas presenting her Three Minute Thesis

Post-Doctoral Fellow Dr. Kevser Aktas presenting her Three Minute Thesis (2015)
Photo credit: Andrew Carroll - Queen's Gazette

Although her domain of number theory is among the more abstract reaches of maths, she has innovated ways of reaching out to show people “the beauty of mathematics” at the same time as mobilizing the problem-solving skills at the heart of that beauty for an astonishing variety of aims.

In fact, her belief is that mathematical methods, games and applications can be used to develop creativity and artistic skills, as well as promote an active lifestyle of outdoor activity and sport. In March 2014 she set out to realize this ideal by working with the EU initiative Erasmus+ to host the first offering of “Mathematics for All!!!” This weeklong program in her native Turkey united people between the ages of 18-25 from Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Netherlands, Spain and UK. It was part of the international celebration of the Day of Pi, March 14th – that is, 3.14…

It was a natural step for Aktas to work with the Erasmus+ Programme, which aims to boost skills and employability for EU youth, as well as modernising education, training, and youth work. During her Master’s in Mathematics at Selcuk University (Konya, Turkey), she worked as a mathematics teacher in an elementary school. In her PhD at Gazi University (Ankara, Turkey) her teaching expanded to undergraduate courses and she also began volunteering with a program for teachers in training who were blind or had visual impairment.

Aktas’ internationalizing ambitions brought her next to Queen’s to work with the world-renowned number theorist Dr. Ram Murty. Since there’s no learning quite like teaching – in a second language, no less – Aktas quickly became the first postdoctoral researcher to present at the 3MT competition in March of this year.  Her talk, entitled “The Impact of Powerful Numbers,” was also the first number theoretical research subject to be presented at a 3MT event. The branch of number theory is sometimes called “The Queen of Mathematics” because of its foundational place in the discipline.

“An integer is called powerful number if a prime number divides it, and then the square of that prime number also divides it,” explains Aktas. She and Dr. Murty actually made the discovery that pairs of consecutive powerful numbers were predicted by a kind of equation they dubbed the Brahmagupta-Pell Equation. “It is not easy to find all consecutive powerful number pairs, which makes them very special.” Nor is known whether there are infinitely or finitely many pairs. But it is worth searching for the answer because of their relationship with prime numbers, which are key to encryption. “The prime factorization of very large integers is used in cryptography,” a practice only becoming more important as digital tech becomes ubiquitous.

“The idea of presenting at 3MT was attractive for me because sometimes when you go deep into your research, it is not easy to see the big picture. 3MT gave me the opportunity to look at my research from that perspective.”

Aktas especially thanks organizers Colette Steer and Dr. Rebecca Hügler for their support and for encouraging her to stand as a competitor. On the heels of 3MT, Aktas traveled to present her research at the Canadian Mathematical Society’s Summer Meeting at the University of Prince Edward Island, where she also showed the video of her 3MT presentation. “Because most of the conference-goers were also coming from universities in Canada they were a little familiar with the competition, but none had participated. They liked the concept so much! I believe that these activities are motivating for people who work on pure mathematics.”

Aktas has also taken advantage of other training activities arranged by School of Graduate Studies and the Office of Postdoctoral Training to improve her professional skills. “I attended Career Week just three weeks after I arrived to Queen’s,” she recalls, “and I still use the tips from that training, including effective writing for CVs, resumes, and cover letters.” She also enrolled in SGS 901: Teaching and Learning in Higher Education through the Centre for Teaching and Learning.

These activities have been opportunities for building a social community in Kingston, too. “Kingston is a very nice place to live, with its history and natural beauty,” Aktas remarks. “I will never forget these experiences I’ve had here because of Queen’s.”

Watch Kevser Aktas' Three Minute Thesis presentation.

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