August 14, 2015 at 11:30am

Excellence in Mathematics

John Spaw, a Millikin University senior mathematics major from Lake in the Hills, Ill., was awarded the Outstanding Presentation Award at the 2015 Mathematical Association of America (MAA) MathFest Conference, held Aug. 5-8 in Washington, D.C.

MathFest is one of two MAA national mathematics conferences organized each year. The conference is known for its dual focus on teaching and research in mathematics, as well as for student participation, featuring over 150 student presentations. The MAA celebrated its centennial during this year's MathFest.

The conference also featured six centennial lectures by distinguished mathematicians as well as numerous sessions designed to celebrate mathematics and collegiate mathematics education.

Spaw presented his research during one of the student paper sessions. His presentation was titled, "Locating Sets and Numbers for Disconnected Graphs," a project he began as an Undergraduate Research Fellow in fall 2014 alongside Dr. Joe Stickles, Millikin professor of mathematics.

In terms of the award, Spaw says, "It felt good to have our hard work recognized among the other high-quality presentations at the conference. It was neat to see many different varieties of discussions on math theory and application."

When asked about the project, Dr. Joe Stickles said, "A graph can be thought of like a map. The vertices of the graph can be thought of as the cities, and the edges of the graph can be thought of as the roads connecting the cities. A disconnected graph means there are vertices that can't be reached by following the edges of the graph. Locating sets are particular sets of vertices for which you can form certain codes uniquely, and locating numbers are the minimal number of vertices that you must include in a locating set."

Millikin Mathematics

While graph theory has been applied to solve a number of real-world problems, such as traveling logistics and computer networking, it's only been in the past 20 years that algebraists have used graphs to help study abstract algebra.

Stickles noted, "Whether a mathematics major wants to enter industry or attend graduate school, completing a research project and disseminating the results at a variety of venues gives Millikin students the experiences employers and graduate programs are looking for. The fact that John presented at a national conference is a testament to the quality of John's work and his superior communication skills."

Spaw will also be presenting his research at the Young Mathematicians Conference at The Ohio State University Aug. 21-23. Over 150 students submitted an abstract for the conference and only 57 were accepted.

"One of the biggest things I've found from my experiences at Millikin is that it's crucial to talk about the work that you're doing and engage in conversations about the subject matter," said Spaw. "By doing mathematical research, I'm actually experiencing what the process is like rather than reading about it."

Millikin Mathematics

Spaw recently spent the summer working as a research fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he helped gather research on the mathematical model behind evolutionary theory. Spaw also assisted graduate students and faculty with helping create software for evolutionary structures.

"It was a great experience working in Madison because I was working on research that is actually being used," said Spaw. "The end product of our research is something that is benefiting other people."