Public Release: 

Math Prof. Wins Distinguished Teaching Award

Williams College

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass.-- Colin Adams, professor and chair of the mathematics department at Williams College, has been awarded the Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Distinguished Teaching Award of the Mathematical Association of America.

The award is given to college or university professors "who have been widely recognized as extraordinarily successful and whose teaching effectiveness has been shown to have had an influence beyond their own institutions."

The MAA's citation calls Adams "an innovative, demanding and very popular teacher, who has played a crucial role in the doubling of the enrollments in Williams mathematics classes and the tripling of the number of majors." The award committee also noted Adams' impressive efforts to involve undergraduates in serious pure mathematics research. Adams has played a crucial role in the creation and development of the National Science Foundation-funded Williams College SMALL student summer research project.

Adams specializes in topology, the study of those properties of geometric figures which remain unchanged under distortion. His most recent research is in hyperbolic three-manifolds, curved spaces with finite volumes but infinite extent, and knot theory, a relatively new branch of mathematics that seeks to understand and categorize knots. Adams' 1994 book The Knot Book: An Elementary Introduction to the Mathematical Theory of Knots explains some of the more complex knot theory problems in accessible terms, as well as the application of this work to DNA research and synthetic chemistry.

Adams is well-known to Williams students and mathematicians everywhere for his efforts to make mathematics funny and entertaining. He has given talks on college campuses around the country in the persona of Mel Slugbate, a sleazy real estate agent in a plaid polyester suit who presents mathematical concepts to audiences while trying to sell houses. Slugbate is even featured in the NSF Regional Geometry Institute's video, "Real Estate Opportunities in Hyperbolic Space."

A new book by Adams and co-authors Joel Hass and Abigail Thompson, entitled How to Ace Calculus: the Streetwise Guide, is an irreverent tongue-in-cheek supplement to calculus which makes learning calculus fun. It is due out in March.

Adams and fellow Williams mathematics professor Ed Burger have written and performed a mathematical play, "Casting About: About Casting," which premiered at the 1996 summer meeting of the Mathematical Association of America in Seattle. The play, which follows two metalworkers through their lunch break as they discuss the topology of molding and casting, was the first presentation ever invited by the MAA to repeat for a second year, and was performed again at last summer's MAA meeting in Atlanta.

Adams has been teaching at Williams since 1985. He received a B.S. in mathematics from M.I.T. in 1978, and a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1983. Adams has also held positions at Oregon State University, the Universities of California at Santa Barbara and Davis, and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley. He is the second professor from Williams to win the MAA's Haimo Award. Dennis Meenan '54 Third Century Professor of Mathematics Frank Morgan won the award in 1991. Williams is one of only two math departments in the country to boast two Haimo Award winners, and the only one of its size to do so.

The MAA is the world's largest organization devoted to collegiate mathematics education. The nearly 30,000 members of the MAA participate in a variety of activities that foster mathematics education, professional development, student involvement, and public policy. MAA's national focus is complemented by its 29 regional sections -- together functioning as an extensive network for the mathematics community.



Williams College is consistently ranked one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges. Founded in 1793, it is the second oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college of 2,000 students is located in Williamstown, which has been called the best college town in America. You can visit the college in cyberspace at


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