Celebrating QR Connections

The "Celebrating QR Connections" series, sponsored by Ellen Genat Hoffman, '68 and Stephen G. Hoffman, celebrates the connection between quantitative reasoning and various disciplines.

Run every three to four semesters, each series involves three to five events -- hands-on workshops, lectures, or debates -- clustered in a month’s time. These events are open to Wellesley College students, faculty, staff, and friends. The first series examined the relationship between QR and art; the second, QR and biology.  Details for the more recent series are presented below, and for several of these, recordings are available upon request.

QR and History (Fall 2022)

Mathematics Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma

Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game (2014) dramatizes the cracking of the German Enigma cipher device during World War II by cryptanalyst Alan Turing. But how did this device work and what made the Germans believe it uncrackable? Mathematics Professor Johanna Franklin (Hofstra University) steps us through the mechanics of the (in)famous machine as well as the algebra and cryptography fundamental to its initial inscrutability and eventual cracking.


Neighborhood Change After Kerner

In the summer of 1967, the U.S. was rocked by riots in Detroit, Los Angeles, and other major metropolitan cities with large populations of African Americans living in poor conditions. President Johnson’s subsequently established Kerner commission investigated and published the root causes of this unrest  - lack of economic opportunities, police brutality, and racism among other factors. The committee also outlined a proposal for direct government investments to improve the plight of African Americans. Now, over fifty years later, what are the conditions in this country’s black neighborhoods? Economics Professor Marcus Casey (University of Illinois – Chicago) gives a statistical analysis of changes (or lack thereof) in these areas since the Kerner commission with special attention on the differences between black neighborhoods directly affected by the 1967 riots and those that weren’t.


The CARTography Project: Retracing Historical Journeys with Modern Computing Techniques

At the southernmost tip of mainland Greece lies the Mani Peninsula, a beautiful but harsh landscape traversed since ancient times. What routes did these travelers take? We have scattered clues – written accounts of stops and landmarks – but the travel paths connecting these dots are still largely unknown. History and classics Professor Chelsea Gardner (Academia University) and Geospatial Information Librarian Dr. Rebecca Seifried (University of Massachusetts – Amherst) are the founders of the CARTography Project, an endeavor to estimate and recreate these historic paths using chronicles and GIS software. In this talk these researchers share their experiences and results in documenting, mapping, and even traversing these bygone routes.


QR and Voting (Fall 2020)

Innumeracy and Politics:  Voting, Apportionment and Other Mathematical Ways We Fail at Democracy

Mathematics Professor Ismar Volić (Wellesley) presents an overview of mathematics’ intersection with the U.S. election system. What are the problems with and alternatives to plurality voting? Which states are favored by the Electoral College and is there a path to overturn it? What is the math behind each state’s representation in Congress? 


Spoilers in Proportional Representation Systems

Although modern third party presidential candidates consistently fall short of winning in the US, this does not mean that they are negligible. Ralph Nader’s candidacy siphoned votes away from Al Gore, allowing George W. Bush to win the presidency in 2000. Such candidates are often referred to as spoilers: non-winning candidates whose removal would change the election outcome.  In this talk, Political Science Professor Marek Kaminski (University of California - Irvine) introduces a model for election spoilers and uses this as a vehicle to explore and identify spoilers in Polish parliamentary elections.


Quantifying Gerrymandering and Defining Your Right to Vote

Gerrymandering, the practice of redrawing district boundaries to unfairly favor a certain political group, has influenced redistricting in the US since 1812 when the first gerrymandered district was created in Massachusetts. Recent years have seen a rise in proposed techniques to formally measure how gerrymandered a district is. Computer Science Professor Brian Brubach (Wellesley) explores two such metrics (the efficiency gap and MCMC sampling) before sharing some thoughts about gerrymandering’s implications for voting rights in the US. 


QR, Language and Literature (Spring 2017)

Networks in Novels and Data in Texts

A panel highlighting recent quantitative research on novels, plays and other theatrical texts. Learn about the challenges in turning a text into a data set and about methods of visually representing and statistically analyzing these data. Panelists Joanna Milton '16, Kat Liang '17, Professors Helene Bilis (French), Tavi Gonzalez (English) and Casey Pattanayak (QR and Mathematics) discuss their research.


Computational Linguistics

Computer Science professors Stuart Shieber (Harvard) and Sravana Reddy (Wellesley) discuss the two main approaches of computational linguistics and present quantitative, empirical research in the areas of speech and natural language processing.


QR and Anthropology (Fall 2014)

Paleoanthropology and the Fossil Record:  Quantitative Reasoning with Big Bad Data

Adam Van Arsdale – Associate Professor of Anthropology, Wellesley College. Oftentimes the data available for research is less than ideal. In these circumstances, the challenges posed by the data can often drive our analytical approach, potentially biasing the conclusions we might draw. These problems are exacerbated when the sample available for study is small. Prof. Van Arsdale’s talk focuses on how these issues can be examined in paleoanthropology, in which the data is not only complex – human fossils of variable preservation and temporal certainty – but limited in scope. 


Anthropological Applications of Social Network Analysis:  Focus on Food, Health, and Culture in the US South

Sarah Szurek, Medical Anthropologist at the University of Florida. Dr. Szurek discusses her ethnographic research on food, culture, and social networks in the southeast United States. Dr. Szurek specializes in the systematic investigation of cultural knowledge and uses social network analysis to examine individuals’ and groups’ understanding of food and the food environment. She presents research from recent projects on diabetes risk among Latinos in Alabama and a local food movement in Florida.


Prehistory by the Numbers: Remote Sensing and Numerical Models of Ancient Socio-environmental Dynamics in Southern Peru

Ben Vining, Visiting Professor of Anthropology, Wellesley College. As our concern for recent environmental change grows, archaeology offers invaluable insights into how cultural and environmental change intersect over the long-term. Palaeoclimatic and archaeological investigations in southern Peru show stable land use over the past several millennia, despite climatic changes. Using satellite imagery and geospatial modeling, Prof. Vining reconstructs cultural decisions that shaped land use. Sustained interactions contributed to strong mutualism between culture and environmental systems, which continue to be important today.


QR and Engineering (Spring 2013)

Designing for the Developing World:  The Misconceptions, Challenges, and Adventure

Jodie Wu, founder and CEO of Global Cycle Solutions, a social enterprise that develops and distributes simple technologies that improve the lives of smallholder farmers, discusses and demonstrates some of the technologies developed while at MIT and at her company in Arusha, Tanzania, and highlights the various ways in which quantitative reasoning skills are essential in the design, testing, and improvement of these technologies.


Allometry Brings Together Engineers, Anthropologists, and Statisticians

Catherine Carneal, Biomechanical Engineer, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Brian Corner, Research Anthropologist in Biomechanics and Barry Decristofano, Chemical Engineer, both at the US Army Natick Soldier RD&E Center, explain how their search for information to confirm an assumption about potential scaling laws between internal and external anatomy - known as allometry - led engineers, anthropologists, radiologists, computer scientists, and statisticians to look for a way to draw conclusions about what we can't see inside a body from measurements we can make on the outside. Information gained from their research will enable development of highly accurate human models which can be applied in the fields of safety and protection, medical device development, and personalized medicine


Engineering at All Ages

Kristin Sargianis and Melissa Higgins, from the Boston Museum of Science’s “EiE: Engineering Is Elementary” Program, ask: What does engineering (and quantitative reasoning) look like in elementary school? What foundational engineering practices do students need as they move from elementary, middle, and high school into college? After engaging in a hands-on engineering challenge ourselves, we visit real elementary school classrooms via video, observe students in action, and discuss how what we see can translate to the university level and beyond.


Machine Learning and Data Mining:  How BIG data is having a BIG impact in Medicine, Finance, Sports and More

Every day, vast amounts of data are collected more or less everywhere.  What can we do with all these data? Learn!  Machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, is the study of computer programs for finding and analyzing patterns in data. Jenna Wiens, doctoral candidate at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, introduces us to the world of big data and the machine learning tools that computer scientists use to analyze it and learn from it. Together we explore exciting applications of machine learning and data mining in the fields of medicine, finance, sports and more. Recording of this talk on iTunes U.


From Grains of Sand to Asteroids:  Using Engineering to Understand Granular Materials

Dawn Wendell, Assistant Director of Admissions at MIT, is fascinated by granular materials that occur throughout nature.  Dr. Wendell, a mechanical engineer, discusses the underlying physics and special properties in granular materials that have implications in engineering systems from wheat farming to pharmaceutical processing and provides examples from her own research about digging in granular materials and implications for underseas exploration.


Neighborhood Change After Kerner

QR and Sustainability (Fall 2011)


Sustainability on College Campuses

Jason Hamilton, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Ithaca Collegeexplores the academic and intellectual framework of “Sustainability” and the role it plays in dealing with our current environmental, social, and economic dilemmas.  Drawing on his experiences at Ithaca College, he describes the role of education on sustainability across the college curriculum and in practice on campus, as a way to move us toward a more secure future.


Sustainable Cities

Joyce Klein Rosenthal, Assistant Professor of Urban Planning, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, draws on her expertise in environmental planning, sustainable development, and the public health effects of urbanization to take us from the history and design of cities to discuss the environmental impacts of urbanization and analyses of climate-related effects on health in today’s urban areas. Lecture available on iTunes U.


Sustainability is Good Business

Sierra Nevada has won numerous awards for its beer and for its sustainability practices. The company's sustainability coordinator, Cheri Chastain, explains how the brewing company tracks and reports key performance indicators in energy, water, agriculture, transportation, recycling/recovery, greenhouse gases, and more for both our environment and the company’s bottom line. The Sierra Nevada case study illustrates how science and economics are intertwined in sustainability. Lecture available on iTunes U.

QR and Women's Health (Spring 2010)

A Panel Discussion about the New National Guidelines on Mammography and Breast Self-Examination Moderated by Wellesley's Susan Reverby, Women's and Gender Studies with panelists, Cindy Pearson, Executive Director of the National Women's Health Network, and Ngina Lythcott, Breast Cancer Liaison from the National Black Women's Health Project. Lecture available on iTunes U.  Also, see NYT math blogger Strogatz on conditional probabilities, including the probability of having breast cancer, given a positive mammogram.

Historical Perspectives on the Treatment Debates for Breast Cancer Barron Lerner, Professor of Medicine and Public Health at the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, and author of the award-winning book The Breast Cancer Wars: Hope, Fear, and the Pursuit of a Cure in Twentieth-Century America, shares his perspective on the debates as both a medical doctor and a social historian. Lecture available on iTunes U

Understanding False-Positives and False-Negatives Jessica Polito, from Wellesley’s QR Program, provides hands-on computer applications and real data to help participants understand these different testing issues in the context of pregnancy tests, tests for cancer, etc.



Evidence-Based Maternal Care Carol Sakala, Director of Programs at the Childbirth Connection, makes the case for stakeholders from across the health care system to engage in more evidence-based maternal care in the US if we are to reverse some of the negative trends in women's health in recent years. Lecture available on iTunes U.



Quantitative Reasoning, Polling, and Predictions (Fall 2008)


bar graph Pollster 101: The Ins and Outs of the Polling Profession  Pollster Anna Greenberg advises Democratic campaigns, non-profits, and charitable organizations, particularly those focusing on women's health, religion, and youth.  The senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research is an expert on public opinion, research methodology, and survey design.  Come take a mini-course in "Pollster 101." Lecture available on iTunes U.


2008 electoral map

The Persuadable Voter:  Wedge Issues in the Presidential Campaigns Harvard Government Professor and Survey Research Director, D. Sunshine Hillygus highlights findings from her book (co-authored with Todd G. Shields), analyzing who can be persuaded by campaign information and how candidates try to sway these pivotal voters. Lecture available on iTunes U.


voting ballot Political Arithmetik:  Where Numbers and Politics Meet Charles Frankin, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, co-founder of Pollster.com and co-director of the Big Ten Battleground Poll, helps us understand political numbers and the logic of statistical comparisons before heading to New York City to help ABC News behind the scenes on Election Day. Lecture available on iTunes U.


Quantitative Reasoning and Forensic Evidence (Spring 2007)

Quantitative Reasoning in the Hit Show "NUMB3RS"Gary Lorden, Professor of Mathematics, California Institute of Technology and mathematical consultant to the hit CBS television show NUMB3RS, now in its third season, shows clips from the series and explains the logic, math, and statistics behind the show’s FBI crime solving.


2008 electoral map Real World CSI - Not As Fast or As Easy As It Appears on TV! Carl Selavka, Former Director of the Mass State Police Crime Lab System, describes how quantitative skills are used in various lab analyses, especially for the contextual interpretation of test results. These forensic analyses include criminalistics, DNA testing, street drug testing, toxicology, and the characterization of trace evidence such as hairs, glass, fibers, paints, and debris from arson fires and explosions.
voting ballot How Examining a Computer is Like Exploring a Dumpster 
Alison Chung, Wellesley College Trustee and founder and president of TeamWerks, a technology consulting firm specializing in computer forensics, explains how investigators can learn far more than what they were expecting when reconstructing computer activity, keystroke-by-keystroke. The strength of her computer forensic techniques are clear:  her firm’s clients have not lost any litigation matters since 1998!