Parsons Lecture

2022 Parsons Lecture – Thursday, October 27 – 7:00 pm

Topic: Atari and the Multiverse of Doughnuts

Abstract: In Atari’s Asteroids, you fly a spaceship that destroys asteroids with a ray gun. When you fly off the top of your TV, you reappear from the bottom. When you fly off the right, you reappear from the left. The top of TV is “glued’” to the bottom, making a cylinder, and the left end of the cylinder is “glued” to the right end, making a doughnut. The Asteroids universe is a doughnut. TVs used to have 4:3 aspect ratios, and now they’re usually 16:9. We can play Asteroids on both. Both universes are doughnuts, but they’re different shapes. If we took the ship captain out of her universe, and marooned her in a new one, would she be able to tell? Could different TVs give her the same universe? Are there directions she can fly that take her to every point in her universe? These are basic versions of questions that mathematicians study: What are the possible shapes of a given object? Can we tell two objects apart by studying their geometry from within, as in our marooned captain’s dilemma? We’ll go on a trip through this multiverse of doughnuts, and see what we find. 102722parsonslecture_flyer


Speaker: Professor Autumn Kent grew up in Goldsboro, North Carolina, the daughter of an artist and a fighter pilot. She graduated from UNCA in 1999, with a BA in Literature and Mathematics, and taught briefly at A-B Tech before going to graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, reading, and playing video games with her children.


Join Us: Thursday, October 27th, 7:00 PM, Lipinsky Hall – Open to the Public, No Cost for Admission


About the Parsons Lecture

In 1998 a Mathematics alumnus from UNC Asheville provided an endowment, in honor of Joe Parsons, to fund this annual lecture series. The goal of the Parsons Lecture is to provide the UNC Asheville community with the ability to attend locally a presentation by a nationally renowned mathematician speaking on a topic accessible to the general audience. Speakers for the lecture series are invited to present a lecture not just because of their renown as mathematicians, but also for their skills as educators and orators. The endowment is used to fund travel and other expenses incurred by the speaker and department. Find information on the Parsons scholarship here.

About Joe Parsons

Joe Parsons grew up on a farm in western Tennessee and graduated from high school at 15 in 1931. In order that he might get a teaching certificate, a friend gave Joe enough money to attend his first year of college. He completed his undergraduate work and went on to the University of Tennessee for his graduate degree.

When Joe started at Asheville-Biltmore College (what is now UNC Asheville), he was the entire Math Department, and through much of the 1970’s he was the chair of the department. Other roles he filled at UNC Asheville include Dean of Students and Academic Dean. Joe also helped formulate the current plan of the UNC Asheville campus including the choice for the library to face Mt. Pisgah. The view from the library steps is admired on campus. He also was instrumental in the development of the first 4-year curriculum when UNC Asheville joined the UNC system.

Joe matched his dedication to this institution with his dedication to his students. Joe was known to students at UNC Asheville as a wonderful teacher with a good sense of humor. He personally founded an endowment for student scholarships in mathematics. Even in retirement he could not stay away from the classroom, reading for elementary students at Claxton school here in Asheville. Until his death on Sunday ,September 24, 2006, Joe continued to contribute to education in his community. He will be missed.

In 1998 one of Joe’s former students provided an endowment for the Parsons Lecture series to honor the dedication of this great educator and continue his legacy.


Past Parson Lectures

  • 2020 – “Gerrymandering, Mathematics and Fairness” by Dr. Moon Duchin, at Tufts University
  • 2019 – “The Patterns of Play: A Recreational View of Mathematics” by Dr. Ronald D. Taylor, Professor of Mathematics at Berry College
  • 2018 – “From Monroe to NASA” by Dr. Christine Darden. Darden’s character was featured in the 2016 book “Hidden Figures.”
  • 2017 – “Playing from a Laptop: Sports Analytics” by Dr. Tim Chartier, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Davidson College
  • 2016 – “Chaos Games and Fractal Images” by Dr. Bob Devaney, Professor of Mathematics at Boston University
  • 2015 – “The Shape of Space” by Dr. Jeffrey Weeks, Middlebury College
  • 2014 – “The Right Treatment for the Right Patient at the Right Time: Personalized Medicine and Statistics” By Dr. Marie Davidian, NC State University
  • 2013 – “The Great Pi vs. e Debate” by Drs. Thomas Garrity and Colin Adams, Williams College
  • 2012 – “Codes are Everywhere!” Dr. Judy Walker, University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • 2011 – “Monkeys, Mathematics, and Mischief: What are the Lifelong Lessons of Education?” Dr. Edward B. Burger, Williams College
  • 2010 – “This Is So Wrong!” Dr. Stan Wagon, Macalester College
  • 2009 – “From Flatland to Hypergraphics Geometry and Art in the 4th Dimension” Dr. Thomas Banchoff, Brown University
  • 2008 – “Mathematical Modeling in Biology: What is it? And how is it useful?” Dr. Mary Lou Zeeman, Bowdoin College and Cornell
  • 2007 – “We vote, but do we elect whom we really want?” Dr. Donald Saari, University of California, Irvine
  • 2006 – “Breaking Drivers’ License Codes” Dr. Joseph Gallian, University of Minnesota-Duluth
  • 2005 – “Ingenious Mathematical Amateurs: M.C. Escher & Marjorie Rice” Dr. Doris Schattschneider, Moravian College
  • 2004 – “On the Number of Groups of a Given Order” Dr. John Conway, Princeton University
  • 2003 – “Newton and Leibniz: Mathematicians at War” Dr. William Dunham, Muhlenberg College
  • 2002 – “The Chaos Game and Fractal Images” Dr. Robert L. Devaney, Boston University