Get to Know the Math Prof: Tom Morley

April 20, 2016 | Atlanta, GA

What is your research about?

I've been all over the place in terms of research.  In fact, majority of my publications have been outside of mathematics proper - in electrical engineering (network theory), physics (quantum mechanics and fractals), operations research (optimization, games), education (cross-disciplinary learning, MOOCS), etc. My latest paper was with a student on nuclear engineering. What ties these research activities all together is that the problems involve a combination of discrete mathematics, matrices, and computers. I find much of mathematics all by itself to be sterile and too inward-looking. 

What has been the most exciting time so far in your academic life?

Working with really good students even before they get to Georgia Tech. Through the Distance Calculus Program I started teaching in 2005, high school students in the Georgia Public School System have been able to take college credits for courses in calculus. Using audio or video links, they take the courses at the time I teach them in Tech, and they take the same quizzes and tests that I give to on-campus students.


The program now serves close to 500 high school students per year. It enables public high schools to teach college-level courses at low cost. Almost all of the students in the program apply and are admitted to Georgia Tech, making up 6-7% of the freshman class when they get here. I'm very proud of that. (More information about the Distance Calculus Program is on pages 14-15 in Volume 8 of Proof Reader.)

How did you find your way to mathematics research?

It was either mathematics or music. I had a really great seventh-grade math teacher.  Also the wonderful math faculty at University of Maryland were incredibly helpful and supportive.

What advice would you give to a college freshman who wants to be a mathematician?

Do the mathematics that you enjoy and have fun with it.

If you could not be a mathematician, in what line of work would you be now?

A musician.


What is the most exciting thing about being a part of Georgia Tech?

The students are really great. They are not just good at science and technology. They do wonderful things that are not graded or even required in class. Riding bicycles, making music, building things.

What unusual skill, talent, or quality do you have that is not obvious to your colleagues?

I play (in public) at least a dozen instruments. In college I was a piano player in a blues band; these days I play jazz standards on piano (from an ipad!). I play lots of "stringy things" - double bass, electric bass, guitar, mandolin, octave mandolin, mandocello, ukulele, etc. I play baroque and modern flute, and a whole bunch of renaissance woodwinds you've never heard of. Sometimes you can catch me on campus at the Wesley Foundation on Tuesday evenings. (For more of Tom Morley's musical interests, visit Tom Morley's facebook page.)

And I once taught an entire semester course on the Rubik's Cube.

What is your ideal way to relax?

Riding a bicycle with friends, and sprinting up some of the steep hills in the Atlanta area.

What three destinations are still in your travel to-do list?

County Kerry Ireland, where I have some second cousins; Nepal, just for fun; and Spain for the architecture and food.

If you won $10 Million in a lottery, what would you do with it?

Commission a builder I really like to build a five-string double bass in the style of Abraham Prescott's 19th-century basses, build and equip a personal recording studio, and then give lots of it away.