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Adam Promotes His New Book, 'X and the City'

John Adam with the London street sign

Old Dominion University mathematician John Adam had no trouble remembering the address for the Royal Society venue in London where he was invited in May to give a talk about his new book, "X and the City: Modeling Aspects of Urban Life."

That's because the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has its headquarters on John Adam Street, named for an 18th century Scottish architect.

Adam's talk (hear it at Urban Life) was titled "X and the City: The Mathematics of Urban Life," based on material in the new book, which is coming out early next month from Princeton University Press.

In addition to the RSA talk, Adam, a native of England, accepted an invitation of the BBC World Service program to be interviewed while he was in London. The trip afforded him the opportunity, as well, to visit with family members, including a new grandchild.

The appearances promoting the book in England are only the beginning of what the publicity staff at Princeton University Press expect will be a busy spring and summer for the gregarious ODU professor. The title of the book alone is bringing it media interest.

Adam won the Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia in 2007 largely because of his reputation for creating ways to make math interesting to the students in his classroom and to the readers of his popular books.

So he says it should come as no surprise that his new book is titled "X and the City."

The book is designed to answer the question: What has mathematics to say about life in the city? Adam's answer: More than you expect.

"Mathematics helps us understand how cities and their populations grow - both for people and bedbugs," he says. "Or how traffic moves, or doesn't, or how air pollution spreads. This book discusses these topics and many others in short bites, and anyone with a background in basic calculus should find it easily digestible."

Adam says that after the publication of his "A Mathematical Nature Walk" (2009, Princeton University Press), his editor suggested that he write a book that might be called "A Mathematical City Walk."

"My first reaction was somewhat negative, as I am a country boy at heart, and have always been more interested in the modeling of natural patterns in the world around us than man-made ones. Nevertheless, the idea grew on me, especially since I realized that many of my favorite nature topics, such as rainbows and ice crystal halos, can have very different manifestations in the city."

Adam says the "X" of the new book's title is there because "x" is an archetype of mathematical problem solving - such as in "find x." He believes the title will be "catchy," but acknowledges that some people may order the book thinking it's about something other than mathematics. In that case, he adds, "there would be a lot of returns."

A professor of mathematics and statistics at ODU, Adam has current research interests associated with theoretical problems in meteorological optics. He is also a nature photographer whose contributes to the Earth Science Picture of the Day website (http://epod.usra.edu). In addition to "A Mathematical Nature Walk," he is the author of "Mathematics in Nature: Modeling Patterns in the Natural World" and coauthor of "Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin."

This article was posted on: May 6, 2012

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