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"Kailyn is a powerful and creative thinker who has already made an important breakthrough in our understanding of early modern astronomy. Her current research has the potential to rewrite the story of 16th-century trigonometry, where so much of our modern way of looking at the subject took shape. Her deep curiosity about how we humans interact with mathematics is transforming classrooms as well. Her leadership, both in research and in teaching, will soon change the future as well as the past."
Dr. Glen Van Brummelen
Student Profile: Kailyn Pritchard
Science Master's student in the Faculty of Science
Throughout my entire life, I have loved to ask questions. Lots of questions. When I learned math at school, it was often my experience that we asked and answered questions about “what” things were and “how” they worked, but we rarely talked about “where” they came from or “why” they worked. My undergraduate studies were guided by the question, “How can curiosity motivate mathematical exploration?” This allowed me to consider what encourages students to learn in ways that are guided by their inquisition, and how educators can best set themselves up to be able to respond to students’ questions.
Studying the history of mathematics has allowed me to deepen my perspective on “where” mathematical ideas came from and “why” they work in rich and exciting ways. I am excited by the possibilities that lie within teaching mathematics through narratives, perhaps especially their historical “origin stories”. I am passionate about learning and sharing the real, very human stories that fundamentally underlie mathematics.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO SFU?
I fell in love with the history of mathematics during the first year of my undergraduate degree at Quest University Canada while taking a class called “Spherical Trigonometry.” Simon Fraser University is the only university in North America that offered me the opportunity to study the history of mathematics from within a mathematics department, rather than a history department. With my focus being on tabular analysis, and uncovering the mathematical processes underlying historical computations, I felt strongly that my research would benefit significantly from further development of my mathematical background.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH AND/OR PROGRAM.
For thousands of years, mathematicians have been developing a set of tools that would allow them to better understand the universe that we live in. Using these tools they were able to determine key characteristics of our world like the size of the earth and the distance to the moon. This branch of mathematics is called trigonometry, and it is essentially the study of triangles. I study one particular moment in the progression of those ideas, in the 15th and 16th century in Europe, when a mathematician named Rheticus (who worked with the far more famous Copernicus) decided to challenge the status quo and reinvent the whole system. He spent over a decade producing trigonometric tables that were unprecedented in their precision, only to learn after their publication that they contained massive mathematical flaws. The tables were edited, the errors were corrected, and the adjusted tables were depended upon by mathematicians and scientists for over 300 years, until the early 20th century. My research studies what Rheticus did behind the scenes, what he was thinking when he made his erroneous tables, and how he went so far wrong.
WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOYING ABOUT YOUR STUDIES/RESEARCH AT SFU?
I am enjoying the opportunities that SFU is providing me to connect with others who have similar interests and aspirations as myself. Being exposed to such a vast variety of different areas of mathematics, and seeing the passion of students and professors alike is incredibly inspiring. As time progresses, I am looking forward to attending conferences, and having the opportunity to present the understandings that I am able to develop to other members of the academic community, supported by SFU.
HAVE YOU BEEN THE RECIPIENT OF ANY MAJOR OR DONOR FUNDED AWARDS?
I am very grateful to have received the SSHRC CGS Masters Scholarship ($17,500), as well as the Special Graduate Entrance Scholarship ($5,000). These awards have provided me with additional financial security that frees me up to focus on my studies and the pursuit of my research.
DESCRIBE YOUR PROGRAM FOR THOSE SEARCHING.
My program provides me with the opportunity to study from a variety of mathematical fields, while also developing my skills as a researcher in my specific field. I have had the opportunity to begin developing a network of peers and professionals as I learn and experiment within SFU’s academic community.
Contact Kailyn: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Personal Website: kailynpritchard.com
- Tutoring Website: curiositydriventutoring.com