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Why should students take mathematics courses?

Tom Davis, Principal Scientist, Silicon Graphics Inc., in a letter to the president of the University of Rochester regarding their decision to cut back the math program:

"In the 13 years since I helped to found the company Silicon Graphics, I've noticed that it is becoming more and more difficult for us to hire students with a sufficient background in mathematics. Every year, we require more, and the students seem to have less.

To do computer graphics, calculus is not enough -- we require a strong background in linear algebra, and people who are interested in making computer-generated dinosaurs for "Jurassic Park" or a liquid metal man in "Terminator II" or want to have Forrest Gump shake hands with Richard Nixon had better have a solid grounding in advanced calculus, differential geometry, and projective geometry.

Computer graphics is clearly a rapidly growing field, and it is now possible to do very effective 3 dimensional renderings on modestly priced personal computers. Hence, the job market is rapidly expanding, but the mathematics is not getting any easier. In fact, techniques like morphing (making one face or shape change to another smoothly), texture-mapping, physically-based modelling, virtual reality, robot motion and control, et cetera, are all becoming affordable for the general public, so those who hope to deliver products based on these technologies had better understand calculations in phase space, Fourier and discrete cosine transformations, mathematical physics, and be very comfortable with 3 dimensional geometry, including differential geometry.

There is a big push these days to make World-Wide-Web pages on the Internet support three-dimensional objects with motion, shading, and the other usual bells and whistles, and we're only one company of many that is hiring lots of engineers to work on these projects."


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