Math Homework = Exotic Travel?


My 16-year old niece whines about doing math homework, which from her perspective, seems totally useless in life. I am sympathetic to the genuine agony felt by teenagers droning toward their hormonal destiny.  When anything forces their attention away from their sole purpose in life–dating–it couldn’t feel worse.

For most teenagers, math, especially advanced math, is nowhere near as exciting as next Saturday night. But what if math could lead to the ultimate date? Many successful scientists figured out this equation long ago: math homework = exotic travel.

Take cosmologists for instance. They use advanced mathematics to theorize about the origins and composition of the universe. A cosmologist’s calendar reads like an issue of National Geographic: working group gathering in Prague, symposia in the Seychelles, annual meeting in Marseille. It seems that sipping umbrella drinks in some of the world’s most exotic destinations encourages the inner genius to grasp mind-boggling mysteries.

Other scientists are onto the formula, too. Astronomers routinely visit exotic locales—Hawaii, Spain, Chile, and South Africa—to observe the sky with large telescopes. They use advanced math to discover and explore celestial objects. Dozens of passport stamps happen to come with the job.

Wildlife biologists count for a living. They count individuals, populations, habitat—anything that will help them determine the health of a species and its environment. Sadly, global climate change and human land development will only increase the demand for these scientists. The process of documenting requires field trips and not just to the local zoo. “Field” means anywhere in the world with interesting creatures, which is pretty much everywhere. For these scientists, the ultimate Saturday night date could be with endangered species in the Amazon rainforest.

So the next time my niece whines about math homework, I am not going to repeat the party line that math is important for her future. Instead, I am going to ask here where in the world she would like to go on an ultimate date and let math lead her there.