Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Kening Lu, who was named BYU's Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecturer this year, speaks at BYU Tuesday. "Math has touched everyone's life to a varying degree," Lu said.

PROVO — For students who are struggling with math and who may think of nothing more than apples and a la mode when they hear the word "pie," a Brigham Young University math professor has reasons why math is important.

Kening Lu, who was named BYU's Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecturer this year, was also awarded the privilege of addressing students at the forum Tuesday morning in the university's Marriott Center.

"Math has touched everyone's life to a varying degree," Lu said.

He detailed some history of math. By 2000 B.C., Babylonians were using well-developed algebra equations. People began using geometry to measure the size of land and to lay out angles for the corners of buildings.

But calculus is the math Lu loves best. And he wishes more people shared his joy.

Lu has discovered the top five reasons why students take calculus at BYU. And he is rather disappointed that his favorite answer is ranked fifth.

The No. 1 reason BYU students take calculus is it's required for their major.

Second, they want to know calculus so they can help their children with math homework. Lu said that surprised him since not many young people think that far into the future.

Third, BYU students say they think they just might get rich since financial experts and economists use math a lot. "I hope your calculus experience makes you feel rich," Lu said, at which the audience chuckled.

Fourth, students prefer a math class over the university's foreign language requirement. Lu says math in itself is a foreign language. "As you can tell, I can speak calculus better than English," he said, mocking his accent.

Fifth, the students say they take calculus simply because they like mathematics.

Lu displayed a quote by Brigham Young on the overhead screen: "Every accomplishment, every polished grace, every useful attainment in mathematics, music, and in all sciences and art belong to the Saints."

The Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecturer status is the most prestigious faculty award given by the university. The winner must have demonstrated clear superiority in research or creative work, teaching and university citizenship.

The recipient receives a cash award of $4,500, is recognized at the annual BYU conference in August and speaks at BYU's forum during winter semester. They are also honored at a special luncheon.

Lu is an internationally recognized expert in infinite-dimensional dynamical systems.

Lu co-founded a BYU program that benefits gifted elementary school students.

The math professor received his bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics from Sichuan University in China in 1982 and 1985 and his doctorate in mathematics from Michigan State University in 1988.

His doctoral research was in the area of infinite dimensional systems. He held postdoctoral positions at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Minnesota before joining the BYU faculty in 1990

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