Drag-racing math prof talks aboutnumbers outside the classroom

by Morgan Thompson

Mathematics does not always have to be about calculators and long equations.

That’s the message internationally known mathematician Richard Tapia delivers to the nation’s math students and teachers.

“I want to show the youth of America that mathematicians don’t have to be boring. There are a lot of things we can do that are really fun,” Tapia told a group of University students and faculty at a lecture Thursday at Smith Hall. The mathematics department and the Institute of Technology Alumni Society sponsored the appearance.

Tapia said math has changed his life and he wants to encourage students to become more interested in the subject.

“My mathematical training enters into everything that I do and it definitely made my life more enjoyable and more interesting. It’s allowed me to combine three of my loves: family, cars and math,” Tapia said.

Tapia’s speech highlighted how mathematics is used outside the classroom, such as in drag racing.

Tapia, who was a part-time drag racer before becoming a math professor, showed videos and pictures of drag racers mixed with mathematical equations and explanations.

A professor at Rice University in Houston, Tapia has done research on drag racers’ acceleration.

Tapia has won awards such as the 2000 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science Distinguished Scientist Award.

In addition to research, he works to create opportunities in math and science by mentoring minority students. According to Rice University’s Web site, Tapia also leads the nation in graduating women and minority doctoral students.

As a Mexican-American, Tapia was the first Hispanic to become a member of the National Academy of Engineers.