TEDxDelftWomen 2015 | Dr. Wioletta Ruszel | Math is one of the only truths

Wioletta Ruszel live

“When I was a student, I got caught taking the bus without a valid pass,” shares Dr. Wioletta Ruszel. “I did not have much money, so I tried to convince the driver by saying that I miscalculated the last valid day because I was bad at math. And it worked.”

Mathematics, according to the TU Delft Assistant Professor of Applied Probability, has a beauty and universality to it that is under-appreciated. “When I was eight, we moved from Poland to Berlin. I was in second grade with kids speaking a different language, but when the teacher wrote a sum on the blackboard I understood it and I could solve it,” she explains. Ruszel went on to study Electrical Engineering but then realized that she had a greater appreciation for the formulas in that field. She then shifted to Mathematics and Psychology to study the foundation of nature and mankind.

Oftentimes, people will say they are bad at math and that they find it difficult. It is even socially acceptable to say so. However, Ruszel claims that it follows a set of structural rules. As with grammar, these rules allow the brain to learn a new language and math is one of these languages.

In reality, mathematics is used more often than people might realise. “When you calculate how much petrol the car needs to get to work, you solve a linear equation. Every time you determine the shortest path to the shops, you solve an optimisation equation,” Ruszel explains. “Chips are shaped as hyperbolic paraboloid.” Essentially, their shape has been designed using mathematics in order to pack as many as possible in a pack without breaking.

“Mathematics is universal, beautiful, objective,” Ruszel argues. “It will remain the same one hundred years from now. There is no escape. Everyone can and is doing it.”

Indeed, no other discipline is as multifaceted as math. People tend to think of complex equations when thinking of mathematics, but by breaking them up into smaller problems, they become easier to comprehend and to solve. Ruszel believes that math is a great way to learn more about the world and to enjoy its beauty. “Go into the world, and discover mathematics.”