Something to prove

Junior Ryan Matzke’s work in mathematics leads him to South Africa, Hungary

“Mathematics is definitive,” said Ryan Matzke, a junior mathematics major and physics minor at Gettysburg College. “If you prove something, you don’t need to worry about people arguing over it due to their opinions. If you prove it, then it’s true.”

This drive to unveil the absolute may be why Matzke has blossomed into one of the nation’s top undergraduates in the study of Graph Theory, specifically Edge Grundy Numbers, and has earned a variety of research opportunities throughout the U.S. and abroad.

But long before he devoted himself to understanding the functions of vertices, points, and lines, his journey began with a little orange dot.

As a high school senior, Matzke was interested in pursuing a degree in the sciences at a larger university, such as the University of Pittsburgh or Penn State, but found an unmatched comfort level on the Gettysburg College campus.

“I had the best feeling about the school,” Matzke said. “I met a bunch of like-minded people—which made a very good first impression—and I felt the College had tremendous value.”

In the spring of 2011, at Get Acquainted Day, Matzke embraced his observations and officially enrolled, becoming the very first student that day who “got the dot.”

Once a Gettysburgian, Matzke’s eyes were opened to a new world of mathematics, far beyond the Trigonometry and Calculus he’d grown tired of during his secondary studies.

“I like the challenge that math can present,” he said, emphasizing his desire to be pushed academically. “A math problem is basically a puzzle, and to solve it, you just need to fit all the pieces together, which is fun.”

Matzke credits his professors for his development in the field over the past two and a half years, particularly citing the encouragement and influence of mathematics Profs. Darren Glass and Béla Bajnok.

RyanM_Running“They really want their students to succeed,” said Matzke, who is currently conducting research with Bajnok in Additive Combinatorics. “They’ve helped me take advantage of opportunities available to me, and have offered more experienced perspectives that, as an undergraduate student, have been quite helpful.”

The opportunities awarded to Matzke include a pre-REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) at Texas A&M, where he explored voice recognition algorithms involving wavelets and Fourier analysis. At an REU at Auburn University, Matzke also researched Edge Grundy Numbers (a problem in Graph Theory) and worked to find the Frobenis Number of four numbers in special cases (a problem in Number Theory).

Matzke, who runs for the Bullets’ track and cross country teams and was named to the Centennial Conference Honor Roll and All-Sportsmanship Team this fall, also had the chance to continue his Graph Theory pursuits in Cape Town, South Africa, in late November.

“I participated in both the MASI (Masamu Advanced Study Institute) and in the SAMSA (South African Mathematical Sciences Association) Conference,” he said. “While there, I took part in some international research collaboration to work on open problems in mathematics and, at the conference, my research partner and I gave a presentation on our research in Edge Grundy Numbers.”

Matzke and Matthew DeVilbiss of the University of Dayton presented When Things Get a Little Edgy: Finding the Grundy Numbers of Line Graphs, research they previously showcased as a poster a month prior at a conference in Arlington, Va.

As if traveling to Cape Town wasn’t exciting enough, this week Matzke will embark on his latest math adventure—a semester in Budapest, Hungary.

“Budapest is definitely one of the places to go if you’re studying mathematics,” said Matzke, who hopes to one day become a college professor. “While I’m abroad, I’ll be learning mathematics that we do not offer here, such as Set Theory and Combinatorics. I’ll also hopefully be able to learn about some of the culture there and travel around Eastern Europe.”

Matzke was encouraged to pursue the Budapest Semester in Mathematics (BSM) by fellow Gettysburg College math standouts Nathan Blyler ’13 and Claire Zajaczkowski ’14, both of whom previously capitalized on the opportunity abroad.

Through the experience, Matzke, who also serves as a peer learning associate (PLA) at Gettysburg, hopes to expand his knowledge and hone his craft—inching closer yet to divulging the definitive.

“I like trying to find something that no one else has before, to further our understanding, and hopefully benefit someone with the results I can find,” he said. “I like the challenge it presents, and the satisfaction in making progress, and learning new things.”


Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Mike Baker, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6521

Posted: Thu, 23 Jan 2014

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