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UR professors featured in The Best Writing on Mathematics 2013

Published: January 20, 2014, 11:34 pm ET
Collegian Reporter

Two University of Richmond professors have been selected for inclusion in “The Best Writing on Mathematics 2013,” published by the Princeton University Press through their paper, “The Jordan Curve Theorem is Non-Trivial.”

Professors Bill Ross of the mathematics department and Fiona Ross of the art department are husband and wife. As a math professor, Ross was teaching the Jordan Curve Theorem in his complex analysis class, and was looking for a way of making it easier to prove to his students, Ross said.

“The idea came from me looking at some of Fiona’s latest drawings, which were one-line drawings with beautiful, but quite complicated structures,” Ross said. “I use those drawings in class to show the students the complexities of the theorem I could not possibly do with just blackboard and chalk.”

The Ross’s paper, “The Jordan Curve Theorem is Non-Trivial,” was first published in the “Journal of Mathematics and the Arts.” The article was then chosen to be published by the Princeton University Press by Mircea Pitici, the editor of Best Writing on Mathematics for 2013, after he read the article in the “Journal of Mathematics and the Arts.” The article was published there in 2011 (vol. 5), Ross said.

The paper was the first such collaboration between the two professors.

In it, the Rosses present a brief history of the theorem, “hint at some tricky cases that defy the simplistic intuition behind it, and, most remarkably, illustrate the non-obvious character of the theorem with arresting drawings penned by Fiona Ross,” Pitici said.

The paper shows through words and art that “Jordan curves are not the cold, abstract, boring objects we might think they are,” the Rosses wrote. “Instead, they can tell a story.”

Pitici, the editor, also said the selections in the book demonstrate that mathematicians “create new things and discover novel ways of looking at old things; they believe things hard to believe, and question what seems to be obvious.”

The Jordan Curve Theorem not only tells a story about a simple concept that is very difficult to prove but, through art, can commentate a sort of beauty, Ross said.

This article, and accompanying artwork show that Jordan curves are not just a dry mathematical concept but can be visually interesting.

When asked how professor Bill Ross differentiates himself from other mathematics professors at University of Richmond, professor John Cain commented: “He manages to help in all areas of departmental need, including excellent teaching, mentoring research students, heavy administrative duties, and a very active research program that involves more international travel than any of the rest of us.”

Contact reporter Olivia Simons at

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