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Pi Mu Epsilon guest speaker proves "Dogs Know Calculus"

Roland Minton, professor of mathematics at Roanoke College, gave a guest lecture titled, "The Curious Case of the Dog Who Could Do Calculus," on May 4.

Dr. Roland Minton, professor of mathematics at Roanoke College (VA).

To a crowd of 33 Elon students and faculty, Roland Minton, professor of mathematics at Roanoke College, told the story of a remarkable dog named Elvis who could solve calculus problems. 

The story was part of Minton's lecture, "The Curious Case of the Dog Who Could Do Calculus," which he presented at Elon on May 4. The event was sponsored by Elon's chapter of Pi Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics honor society.

Though Elvis has since passed, his legacy lives on. Here's the story, as told by Minton. Being a Welsh corgi, Elvis had a penchant for playing fetch. His owner would often take him to the beach, and throw an item (usually a tennis ball) into the water. Elvis of course would retrieve the ball with fierce determination, desiring to do so as quickly as possible. But Elvis runs faster than he swims. So Elvis must run for a certain distance on the beach. Then at some point, he must jump into the water. But at what point should he jump in?

The exact answer can be obtained using techniques students learn in MTH 151: Calculus 1. Elvis' owner used calculus to determine the exact answer. He then recorded Elvis' behavior in a series of fetching games, comparing his path with the optimal path. The results were impressive: Elvis would enter the water within one foot of the optimal entrance point almost every time.

Elvis' calculus abilities have garnered him much attention in the last 10-15 years. For example, several mathematics articles have been written about Elvis in the College Mathematics Journal, a publication of the Mathematical Association of America. These articles deal with variations of the original game of fetch that Elvis played. Minton co-authored one of these articles with Elvis' owner, and their paper was recognized with a George Polya Award for excellence in expository writing. Additionally, Elvis and his owner have been interviewed by local news stations. There are even YouTube videos of Elvis playing fetch; just Google "Dog plays fetch with calculus". Interested parties are invited to watch the videos, read the articles and consider taking more calculus classes at Elon.

Chad Awtrey,
5/9/2016 11:50 AM