FlipSide Face – Dani Peterson and Molly Peterson


by Tara Maurer

High-school-turned-college friends Molly Peterson, who majors in mathematics and philosophy, and Dani Peterson, who majors in mathematics and biology, are not afraid to find a solution to any problem.

Just ask them, and they will tell you how they can solve solutions with their “math machine.”

Their machine, which is actually called a differential analyzer, is “used to solve non-linear, differential equations,” Molly said. Or, in layman’s terms, it solves solutions to rates of change.

“It’s the mechanical version of what’s going on in the computer,” Dani said.

The idea to make this machine came to Molly after attending a conference in viewing the only other publicly operated differential analyzer, which belonged to Marshall University.

Professor of Mathematics Heidi Berger helped Molly receive a grant from Simpson College to make the differential analyzer, which she will use for her senior project in her mathematics major.

Molly visited Marshall the first two weeks of August to build the machine. Because of the time restraints, Molly asked Dani for her help building the machine.

How was it built? The machine is made of a British erector set and the team uses screwdrivers to keep it going.

“There was actually a screwdriver ceremony when we left,” Molly said.

Molly will be presenting the differential analyzer at her high school in November before showing it to local schools.

Right now, the team is plotting the solution to the spring equation to model the accuracy of the machine.

When asked for words of wisdom, both Molly and Dani agreed: “Math majors can do anything!”