Thursday, October 27, 2011

"There are no foolish questions and ...

no man becomes a fool until  he has stopped asking questions"                Charles Proteus Steinmetz

Hat tip to the always awesome Pat Ballew for reminding me of this wonderful quote from Charles Steinmetz, the mathematical and electrical "Wizard of Schenectady."

Our PUMaC team "Albany Area Math Circle Steinmetz" fittingly bears his name.

Charles Steinmetz founded the GE research labs (originally in a stable behind his home in the Stockade neighborhood of Schenectady) and also founded the electrical engineering department at Union College, where taught for many years.  He also served as President of the Schenectady City School Board (campaigning with a motto of "a seat for every bottom" at a time when the schools were bursting at the seams, requiring double shifts) as well as President of the Schenectady City Council.

His story is a fascinating one--this Smithsonian blog post is a great source.  An excerpt:
a brilliant student of mathematics and chemistry at the University of Breslau, but he was forced to flee the country after the authorities became interested in his involvement with the Socialist Party.  He arrived at Ellis Island in 1888 and was nearly turned away because he was a dwarf, but an American friend whom Steinmetz was traveling with convinced immigration officials that the young German Ph.D. was a genius whose presence would someday benefit all of America. In just a few years, Steinmetz would prove his American friend right.
Read the Smithsonian article for some of the many great Steinmetz stories.  I especially liked the anecdote about the time he went off to trouble-shoot an electrical generator at the nascent Ford Motor Company, and asked for "only a notebook, pencil, and a cot" and then proceeded to spend two straight days "scribbling computations on a notepad" before figuring out a simple solution to Ford's problem.  You can also read more about Steinmetz on our blog here.

A willingness to be like Steinmetz--to persevere and think very hard, to try outlandish ideas, to make mistakes, and--above all--to ask questions is the key way that new students can contribute to our math circle.  Please be brave about asking questions.

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