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Mathematician’s work sheds light on sound

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Some simple mathematics can shed a lot of light on sound, and why we like or dislike what we hear.

Mathematician Leon Harkleroad, Wilton, Maine, will speak on “What Makes Notes Sound Good?” in a free lecture at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 1, in the Administration Building chapel on the Bethel College campus.

Harkleroad says his talk is “for general audiences – you don’t have to be either a mathematician or a musician to get something out of it.” Some of the questions he addresses are: Why do some notes harmonize well, while others clash? How can different notes somehow sound the same, yet the same note sound quite different depending on what instrument plays it? How does a siren work?

Harkleroad is giving his talk at the invitation of his long-time friend Richard Rempel, Bethel College professor of mathematics.

Harkleroad has taught mathematics and computer science at a variety of institutions, including Notre Dame, Vassar College and Cornell University. He is the author of The Math Behind the Music (Cambridge University Press/Mathematical Association of America, 2006), which describes many of the interactions between these two fields. Other publications cover topics ranging from computability theory to the history of math to the odds of winning a solitaire card game.

In 1997, Harkleroad received the George Polya Award from the Mathematical Association of America for his paper “How Mathematicians Know What Computers Can’t Do.”

Harkleroad took early retirement from teaching but continues to be active both mathematically, giving lectures and workshops, and musically – he plays piano, accordion and percussion.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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