Almost a decade ago, I first pencilled a squiggly “≈” on my physics homework and felt a pang of guilt.

I had transgressed. I was studying math and mechanics in search of real, exact answers to real, exact questions. How could I stand by and let “ambiguity” and “close enough” contaminate my problem set? Weren’t we beyond that here?

Image for post
Image for post
Me in my safe haven in 2015. Image by author.

Except, confusingly — there was no other way to answer this question. The TA would only give full points for answers that acknowledged (1 + x)ⁿ ≈ 1+nx. Feeling unresolved, I stapled my homework papers together and handed them in anyway. …

So we’re quarantined. We’re social distancing, avoiding groups, and staying 6 feet apart as much as possible. But this still leaves so many questions!

  • What if the sidewalk is only 4 feet wide — should I #stayHomeSaveLives?
  • How does “riskiness of the hangout” scale with “length of the hangout”?
  • How risky is going to Costco vs. going to the corner store?
  • How does this all change if we’re wearing masks?
Image for post
Image for post
A peaceful meadow, or a brewing disaster? (Photo by Joel Holland)

I’m a mathematician, and I’m quarantined in a community house with nine other people. I also worked part-time for three years as a network epidemiology research assistant at MIT. …


Elena Polozova

Using math to make sense of life’s real, messy questions. ✧・゚: *✧・゚* Current: big tech. Prev: MIT Math, Physics, and Computer Science.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store