'Why Knot?' comic book teaches mathematical theory


WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., July 8, 2004 It's knot every day that discussion of a major mathematical theory is paired with a comic book's format and colorful cast of characters. Colin Adams, the Francis Christopher Oakley Third Century Professor of Mathematics at Williams College, achieved this unusual combination in his newly published book, "Why Knot? An Introduction to the Mathematical Theory of Knots."

Different from standard textbooks in almost every way, "Why Knot?" presents the basics of mathematical knots in a comic book. Designed to get high school and college students actively engaged, the book includes a plastic, rope-like toy called the Tangle, which students can use for exercises described in the book. Every page is filled with humorous and instructional illustrations, turning the challenging study of knot theory and the application of knot theory to DNA into an accessible adventure.

Its award-winning author received the Mathematical Association of America Distinguished Teaching Award in 1998 and the Robert Foster Cherry Great Teaching Award in 2003, which recognized the outstanding teacher in North America in any discipline.

He is also the author of a more detailed introduction to knot theory, "The Knot Book: An Elementary Introduction to the Mathematical Theory of Knots" (1994). Adams is co-author of "How to Ace Calculus: The Streetwise Guide" and its follow-up, "How to Ace the Rest of Calculus: The Streetwise Guide: Including Multivariable Calculus." These popular humorous guides to surviving calculus cover everything from how to select the best teachers to what things are likely to be on the final tests. Adams is also the humor columnist for The Mathematical Intelligencer, an expository mathematics magazine.

Adams has received numerous National Science Foundation grants to support his research on hyperbolic 3-manifolds, the first of which was awarded in 1988 and the most recent in 2003.

He has been teaching at Williams since 1985. He has also taught at Oregon State University, the University of California at Santa Barbara and at Davis, and the Mathematics Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley. He received his B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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