'Elvis the Calculus Dog' to Visit U.Va. Math Department on March 23

March 18, 2010 — The Department of Mathematics and the Institute of Mathematical Science at the University of Virginia are sponsoring a free talk, "Do Dogs Know Calculus?"

Timothy Pennings, a math professor at Hope College in Holland, Mich., will be joined by his canine friend, Elvis, who will demonstrate his ability to do calculus. The talk, which is geared to a general audience, will be held March 23 at 7:30 p.m. in Gilmer Hall, room 130.

A standard calculus problem is to find the quickest path from a point on shore to a point in the lake, given that running speed is greater than swimming speed, Pennings wrote.

"Elvis, my Welsh Corgi, has never had a calculus course. But when we play 'fetch' at Lake Michigan, he appears to choose paths close to the calculus answer. In this talk we reveal what was found when we experimentally tested this ability."

Elvis, who holds an honorary doctorate, will demonstrate he's more than a hound dog, according to Pennings. The talk will involve some derivatives, but even those who haven't studied calculus – or who don't remember it – should find the talk enjoyable.

Some of Pennings' other research is in how to optimize a tennis serve and why a learning curve is S-shaped.

For details, visit the Math Department Web site or contact John Imbrie, director of the Institute of Mathematical Science, at 434-924-4919.

— By Marian Anderfuren