Willamette U Think addresses the limits of computation

Willamette University’s U Think series will feature Josh Laison, professor and mathematician. He will present “The Limits of Computation" on Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in Brown’s Towne Lounge.

“People generally think that if you do a mathematical calculation by hand it’s slow and that a computer can calculate very quickly,” says Laison. “There are some kinds of problems that would take more than the projected lifespan of the Universe to complete on our fastest computers; the distinction is critical for issues such as network security.”

Laison will look at some of the longstanding problems that a computer can’t solve. He will discuss what makes these problems challenging and how people can participate in mathematical research by lending their computers’ processing power when machines aren’t being used.

Before teaching, Laison earned his doctorate in mathematics from Dartmouth College. He is a specialist in graph theory, a branch of mathematics and computer science which models relationships between objects in many kinds of networks, including computer networks, transportation systems, biological interactions and more.

Willamette U Think features professors in an informal environment. The free presentations are geared for the public, and no background knowledge is needed. A question and answer session will follow the talk.

At 189 Liberty St. NE, between Court and State Streets in downtown Salem, Brown's Towne Lounge is open to adults over 21. Tables fill quickly, so arrive early to enjoy food and drink specials before the discussion.