College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Mathematical Probability Theory Topic of Spring’s Final Science Cafe

Algebra professor uses dice to demonstrate unique factorization

April 17, 2015 | By EDWIN SMITH

mathematics professor Sandra Spiroff uses dice to demonstrate theories of probability.

Mathematics Professor Sandra Spiroff uses dice to demonstrate theories of probability.

The theory of unique factorization, with an application to mathematical probability, is the topic for a monthly public science forum organized by the University of Mississippi Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The spring semester’s third and last meeting of the Oxford Science Cafe is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday (April 21) at Lusa Pastry Cafe, 2305 West Jackson Ave. Sandra Spiroff, associate professor of mathematics, will discuss “Unique factorization and a roll of the dice.” Admission is free.

“Starting from the familiar factorization of integers into prime numbers, we extend the concept of unique factorization to polynomials and beyond,” Spiroff said. “In particular, we will discuss how unique factorization, or the lack of it, probably jeopardized early attempts to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem.”

Spiroff’s 30-minute presentation will also present an interesting application to the probabilities associated with rolling a pair of dice.

“If time permits, we will run some experiments and play the casino game of craps,” she said. “The mathematical difficulty of the majority of this talk is high school algebra, and many examples will be given.”

Spiroff earned her doctorate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a master’s degree from Saint Louis University and a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University. Her research areas include commutative algebra, with specialization in the topics of divisor class groups and Chow groups.

Undergraduate courses she teaches are linear algebra and abstract algebra. Previously, Spiroff held the position of VIGRE postdoctoral assistant professor-lecturer at the University of Utah.

For more information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy, visit or call 662-915-5311.