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Professor Lectured on His Love for Math and Music At Largest Math Conference in the World

No Piano is Ever in Tune!
March 5, 2010
Press Release #10-059


Earlier this year, Dr. David Kung, assistant professor of mathematics at St. Mary's College of Maryland (SMCM), was invited by the Mathematical Association of America (MMA) to present a lecture at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Francisco, the largest conference of mathematicians in the world.  Wednesday, March 31, Kung will bring the lecture, entitled, "How Math Made Modern Music Irrational," to the East Coast at 4:40 p.m. in Schaefer Hall 106 at the college. 

The lecture explores the different musical scales used by classical musicians as far back as the 17th century.  "In fact, over the past 500 years, a wide variety of scales have permeated Western music," said Kung.  "Amazingly, none of them is ‘in tune!' In fact, in some sense, no piano is ever in tune, and irrational numbers - non-fractions - are needed to understand why."  Kung will reprise his talk on Wednesday, March 31, at SMCM as part of the Natural Science and Mathematics Colloquium series.

Kung fell in love with both mathematics and music at a very early age. He completed three degrees from the University of Wisconsin - Madison, in mathematics and physics, before joining the faculty at St. Mary's College. Now chair of the mathematics department, he still enjoys playing violin with students and as the concertmaster of the local COSMIC Symphony. Kung has authored many articles on topics in harmonic analysis and mathematics education, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2006 Teaching Award from the Maryland/Virginia/Washington, D.C., section of the MAA.

Recently, Kung spent a year on sabbatical at Fudan University in Shanghai. He is also working on an upcoming book about college math teaching entitled, "What Could They Possibly Be Thinking? Understanding Your College Math Students."

St. Mary's College of Maryland, designated the Maryland state honors college in 1992, is ranked one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger's, and The Princeton Review. Founded in 1840 as Maryland's "monument school" commemorating the state's first capital, SMCM is the state's only public honors college.

More than 2,000 students attend the college, which has the highest graduation rate for all Maryland public colleges and universities, and an SAT average for student admissions of 1848. The school's waterfront campus along the St. Mary's River in Southern Maryland is home to the 2009 National Intercollegiate Sailing Association Co-ed champions.