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Thomas Yuster, associate professor of mathematics, was featured speaker at the recent induction ceremony for the chapter of Pu Mu Epsilon, the national mathematics honor society, at Fairfield University.

Yuster’s talk was entitled “Don’t be Such a Bloodsucker: the Evolution of Cooperation.” He talked about the development of human cooperation using a model called “the prisoners’ dilemma,” which involves two people with the choice of whether to cooperate.

“The paradox is that if they behave rationally, both will defect,” says Yuster. “But if both cooperate, they would be better off. It’s really the problem that cooperation has to overcome.”

Yuster explains the dilemma using the example of two people who agree to trade cars by leaving them in separate parking lots without seeing each other. If acting purely from self-interest, each person will decide not to leave the car in the lot for the other. That way, each guarantees ending up with one or both cars, rather than risk leaving a car for the other person and ending up with none. The end result would be for neither person to leave a car and no trade taking place.

Yuster used the “prisoners’ dilemma” for instruction in his Math 103 class and wrote a program for an “iterated prisoners’ dilemma tournament.”

Yuster has written articles for publications such as Mathematics Magazine, Journal of Fluid Mechanics, CHAOS, and Nonlinear Dynamics. He has worked with Wendy Hill, professor of psychology and head of neuroscience at Lafayette, on a mathematical model and computer simulation to determine the optimal size of water bird nesting colonies. He spoke on “Tom’s Arrow: Time and the plays of Tom Stoppard” at a national meeting for the Society for Literature and Science. He helps organize the Barge Team Problem Competition, the LVAIC Mathematics Competition, and the Putnam Exam at Lafayette.

Lafayette awarded Yuster the James P. Crawford Award, which honors a faculty member who has demonstrated a high standard of classroom instruction. He developed the Values and Science/Technology course “AIDS: A Modern Pandemic,” which examines the scienctific, social, political, ethical, economic, historical, and cultural aspects of the disease. He is co-coordinator of the VAST program along with Laura Walls, associate professor of English.

Categorized in: Academic News