Is Our Climate Headed for a Mathematical Tipping Point?

Posted October 23rd, 2014 at 3:40 pm.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 3.28.31 PM

Climate change and the chaotic properties of dynamic systems.

Sounds pretty imposing huh?

Ok, how about instead of that, we talk a little bit about the game of billiards?

That was the idea Professor of Mathematics Victor Donnay came up with several years ago as he tried to create a lesson in which he could explain the mathematical concepts that lie at the core of climate change.

“Think of a standard pool table as the earth being in balance,” explains Donnay. “As CO2 levels rise, changes are made to the system, in this case the shape of the table. When the system is in balance, the billiard balls move in predictable patterns. However, if certain changes are made, chaos reigns and the movement of the balls becomes much more unpredictable.”

When Donnay was contacted by the producers of the TED-Ed videos in May to see if he’d be interested in helping create an animated video, he instantly thought of the billiards lesson.

“It just seemed like a natural for a visual medium like animation,” says Donnay, who still isn’t sure who nominated him to participate in TED-Ed. “They asked me to write a script and I figured it would take me a few weeks given that it was the end of the semester. But I was so excited by the idea that I immediately starting working on it and had a draft ready to send to them in less than an hour.”

Storytellers from London-based karrot animation developed a storyboard based on the script and went back and forth with Donnay, working throughout the summer to create the finished video.

Among Donnay’s non-technical contributions was a suggestion to make a change to the main character, a sort of scientist/astronaut.

“They originally had a male character with the Einstein hair,” says Donnay. “I said ‘Wait a minute, I teach at a women’s college, my wife is a scientist, we want to encourage women to go into science so I do not want to support the old stereotype that scientists are male. This should be a female character.’”

This video is not the first time Donnay’s teaching has been recognized. Several years ago his course “Differential Equations” was designated as a model course by Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities.

SENCER models are chosen because they demonstrate success, showcase effective strategies, and evidence potential for broader implementation and adaptation.

Comments are closed.