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Prof. Woody Dudley Offers Advice to Would-Be 'Trisectors' in Oklahoma Lecture

October 9, 2009

Underwood Dudley 2009.jpgOctober 9, 2009, Greencastle, Ind. — "Dr. Underwood Dudley, longtime DePauw University math instructor, warned students attending his lecture at Northeastern State University about a certain group of mathematicians known as 'trisectors,'" notes an article in Oklahoma's Tahlequah Daily Press. Teddye Snell writes, "Early on, students learn to bisect angles using a compass and straightedge. However, once bisected, the question arises as to how to trisect the same angle using the same method." (photo: Teddye Snell/Tahlequah Daily Press)

"You can't," asserts Dudley, professor emeritus of mathematics at DePauw. "You can't because it's been proved you can't. Pierre Wantzel, in 1837, proved you can't trisect an angle with a simple compass and straightedge. That's the beautiful thing about math; once it's proven, it cannot change. Ever. That's why people study math. The Pythagorean Theorem was absolutely true, remains so today, and will be true forever."

Snell adds, "Dudley said despite the proven theory, many mathematicians spend their lives trying to trisect angles using the Euclidean -- compass and straightedge -- method."

Underwood Woody Dudley 1986.jpgIn his lecture, Professor Dudley urged his audience, "If you leave this university and go out and teach geometry, don't ever, ever bring up the fact that angles cannot be trisected using a compass and straightedge. Because invariably, one of your students will make it their life's work. Which is ridiculous, because no one will ever be able to prove that the sum of two even numbers equals an odd number."

Read the complete story -- "Don't talk to those trisectors" -- at the newspaper's Web site.

Woody Dudley is the author of Numerology: Or, What Pythagoras Wrought, Is Mathematics Inevitable? A Miscellany, The Trisectors and Mathematical Cranks, which drew the attention of the Chronicle of Higher Education in August 2008. The professor was quoted in a March National Geographic piece which examined the fact that 2009's calendar include three Friday the 13ths.