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?

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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?
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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. …

About

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.

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