Logic professor irradiates self for fun and profit
“What, so now a female philosopher can’t solve the P versus NP problem without irradiating herself first?” indignant readers ask
Like most philosophers, Jennifer McAdams refined a little uranium on the side. She never intended it to go too far; just a little fission in her garage, as a challenge, and maybe to keep down the electricity bill. Of course, things did go too far. The professor of logic and computer science mistook a drum of yellowcake for, well, yellow cake, and the rest is history. Or it will be soon, anyway.
McAdams quickly realized the identity of the yellow powdery stuff, but not before exposing herself to dangerous levels of radiation. At first she felt sick, all day and all night. After a few days, however, the nausea was present only when McAdams was grading her students’ problem sets. While she had often felt this way while grading student work in the past, McAdams soon noticed that the feeling came and went according to whether the proof she was grading was invalid or not.
She had, apparently, developed a sixth sense—a sense of validity. “I’ve never had a sense of validity before,” McAdams explains. “I always considered myself good at what I do, but this has allowed me to take it to a whole new level.” She wasn’t just able to identify invalid arguments at first sight. Coming along with her newfound sense of validity was a general increase in analytic abilities and creativity. Soon McAdams was working on problems she had previously considered beyond her ken—and solving them.
And so it was a little over a year ago that McAdams set herself to solving the P versus NP problem, widely considered the most important open problem in computer science. And last month, she solved it. “I solved it twice, actually,” says McAdams. “The first time was when I was 13. I saw ‘p=np?’ written on a chalkboard, quickly deduced that n=1, and felt very proud of myself.” This time, however, the solution should last, as the Clay Mathematics Institute has verified McAdams’s proof and awarded her the million-dollar Millenium Prize. Which leads this reporter to conclude that the proof really is in the pudding…the plum pudding.
“Not really,” McAdams adds politely. “That’s an antiquated model that doesn’t really explain my encounter with radiation.” Fair enough.