5 Reasons to Study Math in Rome (Guest Post by Dr. Joe Pasquale)

Joe Pasquale is a professor at the University of California at San Diego, where he has been on the faculty since 1987. Dr. Pasquale is leading UCSD’s Mathematical Beauty in Rome this summer, which he personally designed and has taught since 2008.

The Eternal City of Rome, where one can experience the awe-inspiring grandeur of the Colosseum, the ethereal sense of space inside the Pantheon, the glorious splendor and majesty of St. Peter’s Basilica: Anyone who has visited this great historical city is immediately taken in by the stunning visual beauty of these timeless monuments.

But these structures offer an even deeper and more subtle beauty – in their geometry, their architectural form, their structural balance – all of which we explore in the UCSD Global Seminar: Mathematical Beauty in Rome. For five unforgettable weeks during the summer of 2013, we will explore some of Rome’s “mathematical secrets” that she keeps hidden from most of her visitors.

Here are my top five:

  1. What is behind the subtle curvature of the perimeter and arena of the Colosseum?  Does the shape follow any geometrical pattern, and how did the Romans generate it with the tools at their disposal?
  2. The immense self-supporting dome of the Pantheon is a perfect hemisphere set on top of a perfect cylinder sharing the same diameter.  Were there “perfect numbers” embedded in its design?  Was the Pantheon a “temple to all gods,” or is there geometrical evidence that it may have had an astronomical purpose?
  3. Rome is full of exquisite arches.  What are the geometrical and structural properties of the semi-circular arch that made it such a successful basic building block for Roman bridges, aqueducts, basilicas, and other monuments?
  4. The famous piazza in front of St. Peter’s basilica is shaped in a way that, if you stand at just the right spots, all of the columns at the piazza’s periphery perfectly align.  Where are these spots located, and what is the geometry behind this optical illusion of perspective?
  5. As part of this program, we go on a grand 4-day excursion to the Tuscan cities of Pisa and Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. Why does Pisa’s iconic Leaning Tower lean?  What are the superior structural properties of Brunelleschi’s dome that crowns the famous Duomo of Florence?  The stories of how these monuments were built is fascinating!

While one can study these topics in a classroom, nothing matches being able to go to the actual sites to see the theory come alive.  The material will be very accessible to any student in a math-related discipline (mathematics, engineering, sciences). And equally important, this seminar offers a unique cultural experience.  Students will enjoy an opera at the ancient Baths of Caracalla, and many great meals at restaurants chosen for their unique cuisine.  You’ll learn where to find the world’s best espresso (in Rome) and the world’s best gelato (in Florence)!

This program is supported by ISA and is a UCSD Global Seminar; contact globalseminar@ucsd.edu for more information.