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Edward B. Burger
Born 1964 (age 45–46)
Residence Williamstown, Massachusetts
Citizenship United States
Ethnicity Caucasian
Fields Mathematics
Algebraic number theory
Diophantine analysis
p-adic analysis
Geometry of numbers
The theory of continued fractions
Institutions Williams College
Alma mater Connecticut College
University of Texas at Austin

Edward B. Burger (born 1964)[1][2] is professor of mathematics in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Williams College. He graduated from Connecticut College in 1985, where he earned B.A. Summa Cum Laude with Distinction in Mathematics[3]. In 1990, he received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Texas at Austin[3]. He did his postdoctoral work at the University of Waterloo in Canada[4].

His research interests include algebraic number theory, Diophantine analysis, p-adic analysis, geometry of numbers, and the theory of continued fractions.[3][5] He teaches abstract algebra, "The Art of Creating Mathematics", and Diophantine analysis.[5] He has taught or been a visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, Westminster College, James Madison University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the Macquarie University in Australia.[5]

Burger has been honored for his innovative work in developing educational and entertaining mathematics electronic textbooks. He has been a keynote speaker, invited special session speaker, or the conference chair at a number of Mathematical Association of America and American Mathematical Society conferences[6].


A pioneer in teaching

Edward Burger is a pioneer[7] in rich, multimedia Internet lectures that, together with written material, form an electronic textbook. By providing students with the presence of a recorded instructor, the material is much more interactive and engaging compared to traditional text books. Together with Thinkwell, Burger "crafted the first-ever virtual, CD-ROM video, interactive, mathematics texts/courses"[8] published over the World Wide Web; he is featured in several of the entertaining multimedia math lessons. Additionally, his lesson tutorial videos earned publisher Holt, Rinehart and Wilson one of the 2007 Awards of Excellence[9] from Technology & Learning, an academic publication.

Burger has written and starred in number of educational videos, including the 24-lecture video series Zero to Infinity: A History of Numbers and An Introduction to Number Theory. He has delivered more than 400 lectures worldwide and has appeared on more than 40 radio and TV programs including ABC News Now on WABC-TV in New York and National Public Radio.[5]

In recognition for his work in multimedia education technology, The Association of Educational Publishers awarded Burger with the 2007 Distinguished Achievement Award for Educational Video Technology[10]

It should come as no surprise that someone so visually focused would embrace creativity as one of the cornerstones of his teaching methods:

Creativity is a means of making new discoveries or creating new ideas or objects—a means to an end, where the end is originality. Mathematicians are both artists and explorers: artists, because they use original thinking and creativity to make new discoveries; explorers, because, unlike artists, what we create is either true or false given the axioms mathematics has as its pillars. Someone might have a result that they deem “beautiful,” but if it’s not true, the mathematics community will not care.[11]

Burger feels that "math trauma" is commonly inflicted upon America's elementary and middle-school students, particularly girls, having received a seventh-grade report card stating: "Eddie is a nice boy, but he'll never do well in arithmetic."[2] The problem is not with math, but with the way in which it is taught. "When we teach mathematics, we are not sensitive to the audience. Teachers are performers in front of an audience. Some teachers don't realize they have to reach their audience."[12]

He offers his students "challenging questions for which the solution is by no means apparent"[11]. For example, when teaching students about topology, he asked students if it is "possible to take a cord of rope 6 feet (1.8 m) long and tie it snugly around your right ankle and your left ankle, take off your pants, turn them inside out, and put your pants back on without ever cutting the rope?" He proceeded to demonstrate the solution to that challenge, wearing huge Boston Red Sox boxer shorts under his trousers, at the Boston Public Library in the summer of 2005.[12] Failure is closely tied to creativity:

In all my courses, I emphasize the power of failure: learning from failed attempts and taking risks. Five percent of students’ final grades are based on their narrative of failure: how they learned from their failed attempts. I judge the quality of their failure by the size of the risk they’ve taken and the amount of insight they have generated from their mistakes. I do that as an invitation to the student to take risks, to try ideas without fear of failure.[11]

"As a professor, I'm basically performing three times a week. I like to be funny and to make my students laugh," he said. In addition to his math courses, Burger teaches a short course in comedy writing during the winter study program at Williams. Combining math with comedy comes from his days as a stand-up comic at the Laff Stop Comedy Club in Austin in the late-1980s.[2]

Mathematical thinking

Burger states that "mathematics is basically an approach to solving difficult problems. The techniques and strategies that we can learn in mathematics are techniques and strategies we can use to solve any difficult problem."[13] In the textbook he co-authored with Michael Starbird, The Heart of Mathematics, they offer their favorite top ten mathematical ways of thinking:[13]

  1. Just do it.
  2. Make mistakes and fail but never give up.
  3. Keep an open mind.
  4. Explore the consequences of new ideas.
  5. Seek the essential.
  6. Understand the issue.
  7. Understand simple things deeply.
  8. Break a difficult problem into easier ones.
  9. Examine issues from several points of view.
  10. Look for patterns and similarities.


Burger has written 12 books and has had more than 30 papers published in scholarly journals.[14] With Michael Starbird, he coauthored The Heart of Mathematics: An invitation to effective thinking, for which they won a 2001 Robert W. Hamilton Book Award, and Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz,, a humorous look at mathematics filed under both math and humor in the Library of Congress catalog[12]. Burger is also an associate editor for the American Mathematical Monthly and a member of the Editorial Board for [AK Peters Publishing].[5]

Some of the books and papers he has authored or co-authored include:[15][16]

  • Making Transcendence Transparent: An intuitive approach to classical transcendental number theory, ISBN 0387214445, July 2004
  • The Heart of Mathematics: An Invitation to Effective Thinking at Google Books, ISBN 1931914419, 2004
  • Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz: Making Light of Weighty Ideas, ISBN 0393059456, August 2005
  • Matematicas, ISBN 0030926289, 2007
  • Mathematics: Course 2, Holt, ISBN 0030385121, January 2007
  • Algebra 1, Holt, ISBN 0030358272, January 2007
  • Extending the Frontiers of Mathematics: Inquiries into proof and argumentation, ISBN 1597570427, March 2007
  • Algebra 2, Holt, ISBN 0030358299, August 2007
  • Just 7: The number for happiness, love, and success, to be published in 2009 by Twelve[17]

Additionally, Burger has created virtual video textbooks on CD-ROM and on the web for Thinkwell on the topics of "College Algebra", 2000; "Pre-Calculus", 2000; "Calculus", 2001; "Intermediate Algebra", 2001; "Beginning Algebra", 2004; "Trigonometry", 2006; and "Prealgebra", 2007.

Professional positions

Burger has held the following professional positions:[10][18]

University of Texas at Austin
Visiting Lecturer, Summer 1990; Visiting Assistant Professor, Fall 1994; Visiting Scholar, Summer 1997
University of Waterloo, Canada
Postdoctoral Fellow, 1990-1991
Williams College
Assistant Professor, 1990-1996; Associate Professor, 1997-2000; Professor of Mathematics, 2001 - present; Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, 2003-2006; Gaudino Scholar, 2008-present
James Madison University
Visiting Scholar, October 1993
University of Colorado at Boulder
Visiting Assistant Professor, Spring 1995; Stanislaw M. Ulam Visiting Professor, 1998-1999 and 2002-2003
Macquarie University, Australia
Visiting Fellow, Summer 1999
Westminster College
Genevieve W. Gore Distinguished Resident, March 2001
Mass Interaction
Mathematics Consultant, Summer 2001
Texas Christian University
Cecil and Ida Green Honors Professor, Fall 2001
American Mathematical Monthly
Associate Editor, 2002 - present
The Educational Advancement Foundation
Member of the Board of Trustees, 2004-2008
AK Peters Publishing
Member of the Editorial Board, 2005-present
NUMB3RS in the Classroom Project, CBS-TV/Paramount Studios/Texas Instruments
Mathematics Advisor, 2005-2007

Selected honors and awards

Some of the honors and awards Burger has received include:

  • 2010 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching from Baylor University[10]
  • 2007 Award of Excellence, for "educational mathematics videos that break new ground", Technology & Learning magazine[10]
  • 2007 Distinguished Achievement Award, for Educational Video Technology, The Association of Educational Publishers[10]
  • 2006 "100 Best of America", Listed in Reader's Digest's Annual Special Issue as Best Math Teacher[10]
  • 2003 Residence Life Academic Teaching Award, University of Colorado at Boulder[10]
  • 2001 Robert W. Hamilton Book Award, for "The Heart of Mathematics"[10]
  • 1988 Mathematics Teaching Award, University of Texas at Austin[10]

Burger is a Gaudino Scholar (2008)[5] at Williams College, where he was also awarded the 2007 Nelson Bushnell Prize for Scholarship and Teaching[10].

Burger has been honored by The Mathematical Association of America on several occasions: 2001, Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics[19]; 2001-2003, George Pólya Lecturer[20]; 2004, Chauvenet Prize[21]; and 2006, Lester R. Ford Award[22]


  1. ^ Cataloging-in-Publication Data in: Burger, Edward (2007). Extending the Frontiers of Mathematics. Key College. ISBN 1597570427. 
  2. ^ a b c Grondahl, Paul. "Math for laughs all in author's equation". Times Union. October 16, 2005. Retrieved May 2, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Burger, Edward B. Faculty page. Williams College. September 9, 1999. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  4. ^ Press release: "Hate Math? This Book is for You! Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz". Williams College. September 12, 2005. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Press release: "Mathematician Edward B. Burger Named Gaudino Scholar at Williams". April 23, 2008. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  6. ^ Dr. Edward B. Burger—Keynote Speaker. TMTA/MT²nw 2006 Fall Conference.
  7. ^ Traub, James. "This Campus Is Being Simulated". New York Times Magazine. November 19, 2000. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  8. ^ Burger, Edward B. "Virtual Video Interactive WEB-based Texts". Williams College. Retrieved May 2, 2008.
  9. ^ Poftak , Amy and Susan McLester. Awards of Excellence. Technology & Learning. December 15, 2007. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Burger, Edward B. "Honors and Awards". Williams College. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  11. ^ a b c Stern, Zelda. Can Creativity Be Taught? Williams Alumni Review. June 2006. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  12. ^ a b c Palmer, Lisa. "Mathematics made fun: Williams professor takes creative approach". The Boston Globe. October 16, 2005. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  13. ^ a b "Conversations - Edward Burger". The Futures Channel. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  14. ^ Burger, Edward B. "Publications". Williams College. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  15. ^ Berger, Edward B. "Books authored by and videos starring E.B. Burger". Williams College. Retrieved May 2, 2008.
  16. ^ Berger, Edward B. "Journal Publications". Williams College. Retrieved May 2, 2008.
  17. ^ Neyfakh, Leon. "Book on the Number Seven Sold to Twelve". The New York Observer. March 4, 2008. Visited May 7, 2008.
  18. ^ Burger, Edward B. "Professional Positions". Williams College. Retrieved May 1, 2008.
  19. ^ The Mathematical Association of America's Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics
  20. ^ The Mathematical Association of America's George Pólya Lecturers
  21. ^ The Mathematical Association of America's Chauvenet Prize
  22. ^ The Mathematical Association of America's The Lester R. Ford Award. Retrieved May 1, 2008.

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