Alumnus Profile

Peter Ash ’66

Solving Arithmophobia

By Nisma Elias ’12
Peter Ash ’60

What is the smallest number of people (N) who must be in a room before it is more likely than not that two share the same birthday?

If this sort of question makes you break into a cold sweat, Peter Ash is your man. For more than two decades, Peter has been helping adults of all ages overcome math anxiety. He spent 15 years teaching mathematics at the undergraduate level, after which he became interested in computer graphics. He then worked as a software engineer before going back to what he loved most—math and teaching. “I love helping people who think they can’t do mathematics overcome their barriers and succeed at something that has been holding them back,” he says.

Peter transferred to Reed from Caltech during his sophomore year, missing Hum 110 (to his regret). He was entranced by Reed’s mathematics department, however, particularly a course by John Leadley [1956–93] on modern algebra. Peter majored in mathematics and wrote his thesis on Henstock’s theory of integration, which is one of a number of definitions of the integral of a function.

Now Peter writes a blog, Math For the Rest of Us, and offers a tutoring service at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, especially tailored for adults who are uncomfortable with elementary mathematics. It is a one-man company and Peter is looking to expand.

Find the solution to the birthday puzzle—and many other fascinating mathematical conundra—at Peter's blog site.