UW-Stout News Story

Professor to put his dog on the spot with calculus presentation

March 13, 2012

The thought of doing calculus can strike fear in the hearts of some people.

A presentation Monday, March 19, at University of Wisconsin-Stout will show that we know much more about calculus than we realize and that even animals can do it.

“Do Dogs Know Calculus?” by Timothy Pennings will be from 4:40-5:35 p.m. in room 110 of Jarvis Hall Science Wing.

Pennings teaches math at Hope College in Holland, Mich. The program will feature his dog, Elvis, a Welsh corgi.

Pennings has published two articles based on experiments with Elvis fetching tennis balls at a beach. Pennings proved that Elvis routinely found the fastest route to a ball tossed in the water, and it wasn’t always the shortest route.

Based on his observations and calculations with Elvis, Pennings suggests that humans and animals intuitively know facts about the physical world. In particular, they can find optimal solutions. Since calculus is the mathematical way of finding optimal solutions, “We show that dogs — at least my dog, Elvis — knows calculus,” Pennings said.

According to Matthew Horak, associate professor of mathematics at UW-Stout, Pennings’ talk is “about the geometric intuition we develop after years of dealing with these problems every day by driving, walking, catching falling objects, etc., and how it relates to mathematics.”

One of Pennings’ research articles appeared in College Mathematics Journal, and Elvis was on the cover. They also have been featured on ABC News and in the Chicago Tribune.

Pennings was a mentor to Horak when Horak was a student.

Pennings’ presentation “will contain interesting material for general audiences as well as some mathematical gems for students of the subject,” Horak said.

The presentation is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Horak at 715-232-2301 or horakm@uwstout.edu.

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