Purdue University - Department of Computer Science - Professor Frederickson Receives Pólya Award from the MAA

Professor Frederickson Receives Pólya Award from the MAA

08-16-2004

Professor Frederickson Frederickson's box

Professor Frederickson holds a model of his solution to the old "box problem" (picture 1).

The shape of Frederickson's box resembles an ornate thickened capital I (picture 2).

At its August 2004 meeting in Providence, RI, the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) announced that Professor Greg Frederickson had won its annual George Pólya Award. Presented to authors of articles of expository excellence that appear in the College Mathematics Journal, the award recognized Frederickson's article, "A New Wrinkle on an Old Folding Problem," which appeared in the September 2003 issue.

In his article, Frederickson took the 150-year-old "box problem," a problem familiar to countless calculus students and instructors, and recast it into an intriguing new problem about folding. The standard version of the problem was to fashion an open box out of a rectangular sheet of material by cutting equal squares out of each corner and folding up the sides. The task of students was to determine the size of the cut-out squares so as to maximize the box's volume. Frederickson's version allows the box to be more general in shape, though with all surfaces still orthogonal to each other. His more complex cutting and folding procedure increases the volume of the resulting box by up to 10%, depending on the shape of the original rectangle. The shape of the resulting box resembles an ornate thickened capital I.

In addition to describing his more general problem and its solution, Frederickson also researched the history of the original version of the problem. His article quoted the quaint, 100-year-old version of the mathematical puzzle column in which the English puzzlist Henry Dudeney challenged his readers to compete for a half-guinea prize. Frederickson tracked this problem back fifty years earlier, and simpler versions back even further, to the time of Fermat.

The George Pólya Award, established by the MAA in 1976, consists of a citation and cash prize. George Pólya was a distinguished mathematician, a well-known author, and a professor at Stanford University.

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