Over the years , Diaconis has taught numerous classes at Stanford on the mathematics of magic tricks – including freshman seminars , graduate classes , and as part of multi-disciplinary programs – with magic woven in to bring the mathematics to life . Persi enjoys performing magic tricks for students when it helps demonstrate and teach the principles under study , and these classes have been , not surprisingly , very popular with students .
A graduate course on the mathematics of card shuffling
Over a Peking Duck lunch in a quiet neighborhood near the Stanford campus , I asked Persi how magic is informing and inspiring his work today . “ More than usual ,” Persi replies . “ I ’ m currently focused on finishing my next book , a graduate course textbook on The Mathematics of Shuffling Cards .” Several of the book ’ s chapters are based on magic-related principles , and Persi enthusiastically talked about his research into obscure magic journals of nearly a century ago that is informing his work today .
Persi has long stayed abreast of developments in the magic community by , as they say , reading the literature , as well as by maintaining close relationships with many of the world ’ s top magical thinkers . Following a long-held magicians ’ tradition , Persi is an avid collector and has one of the largest libraries of magic books and periodicals on the West Coast with more than 15,000 items in his library .
How relevant is magic to questions that science is examining today ? The study of magic tricks based on complex mathematical principles , according to Diaconis , “ can be applied to make and break codes for spies and for analyzing DNA strings . The magic angle suggests wild new variations . Some lead to math problems that will be challenges for the rest of the century .”
… the mathematics behind this card trick underlies a promising technique for reading DNA .
– Persi Diaconis , Prof . of Math , Stanford University
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