Introducing Patron Number 1: Sergium

  • Jenny Ballif
  • May 23, 2017

Patron 1 on the Periodic Table of Patrons - Sergium

The element Sergium is named in honor of Serge Ballif. He is both my number one patron and my other half (Math Dad!). Another nickname he’s had is “hairy armed assistant,” because you can see his arm and hand helping in a few videos (SMG1 and What color is blood REALLY?).

He has a PhD in mathematics and a real gift for inventing games (some of our family favorites that he made up are called “zig zag,” and “commando.”)

Without further adieu, here is a brief interview:

Science Mom: Can you tell me a little bit about the equation in your patron card?

Math Dad: It’s the first formula I ever published–I wrote up a short filler article when I was an undergraduate student at Utah State University, and it got published in American Mathematical Monthly.

Which was super exciting. I remember cheering when we found out you were going to be in the Monthly. Explain why this equation is so neat.

There are infinitely many numbers being added together, but in one sum the individual terms are squared. Yet both sums are equal. I’ll rewrite it for you to make it more clear.

Two infinite geometric series with the same sum. The second series just squares the terms of the first series.

That is really cool! And counterintuitive. How can both sides add to 3 when one side is squared and the other side isn’t?

It’s kind of complicated, but basically on the right side the terms start bigger but get smaller faster.

Really neat. So what kind of mathematician are you?

I’m an algebraist/combinatorist.

How would you explain that to a first grader?

I work with cool number systems and use neat counting techniques to solve problems.

If you could have lunch with any scientist, dead or living, who would you meet with, and why?

Hmm. That’s a tough one. Paul Erdős, maybe? He was a character, and a real legend in mathematics. He was something of a jack of all trades, and he was absolutely brilliant in combinatorics. He spent his whole life traveling the world from university to university, living out of his suitcase while collaborating with other mathematicians.

Isn’t he the one who couldn’t cut his own grapefruit?

(laughing) Yep. He’s the one.

And he referred to children as epsilons - the greek letter that mathematicians use for small quantities?

That’s him. Lunch with Erdős would be amazing.

And entertaining.



Thank you again, and welcome to the Periodic Table of Patrons Serge Ballif, a.k.a. Math Dad. You can read his blog posts about math and teaching here:

Follow him on twitter here:

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Jenny Ballif

Jenny Ballif has worked as a molecular biologist and a wild land firefighter, and at several jobs that fall in between wearing a lab coat and wielding a chainsaw. She is the mother of three kids, wife of one mathematician, and author of several books.