Aaron A. G. Slipper ’18 shepherds us to the secret home of the Science Center's sole easy-access stapler.
“This is one of the less exciting parts of the day here, but wait until we get to class,” Slipper tells us, stapling his problem set on the way to Algebraic Topology.
A sophomore enrolled in all graduate level mathematics courses, Slipper looks the part, with an aesthetic somewhere between Donald Trump rolling out of bed and Christopher Hitchens after a night of heavy drinking.
Donning wire-frame glasses and an untucked polo, Slipper struts into Topology with an air of confidence generally reserved for the professor. As soon as class begins, we see why.
Of the 12 questions students ask during the demanding hour- long dive into topology, 10 are Slipper’s. About every other minute, he fixates on the board, clarifies a question, then nods with a knowing smirk and scribbles down a note. Algebraic Topology is nothing if not a challenging course, yet Slipper leaves the classroom delighted.
But he doesn't have much time to bask in the glory. After all, General Relativity, a graduate level physics course, starts in 10 minutes. And so, with a brief goodbye, Slipper quite literally runs off, barreling away toward his next conquest.
"At the moment my spirit animal is a pig,” Slipper laments, “but by the end of the semester it will be a graceful swan.”
A self-proclaimed “math evangelist,” Slipper has been on a mis- sion to become a mathematician since fifth grade. That was the year he discovered the Leibniz Triangle. By himself. At age 10.
Ever since, Slipper has strived to transcend the traditional stereotypes of “The Math Geek”: He’s been actively involved in theater programs since ninth grade and is now a member of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals. “Theater people are hedonists,” Slipper quips. “I’m not exactly a counterexample.”
He continues, “For a fat, gap-toothed math concentrator...I do frequent [parties] now and then, I’ll admit. It’s my, you know, tragic flaw.”
Yet, despite his active social life, Slipper confides that one thing is still missing: romance. “This is tragic,” he exclaims. “In this respect, I fit the bill of a stereotypical mathematician 100 percent.”
Slipper seems driven to fill this void. “I should do a lot more Netflixing and chilling,” he jokes, “and Netflix-and-chilling to be perfectly frank.”
Ultimately, though, math remains Slipper's true love. Hardly a minute goes by without his deeming some aspect of the Math department “magnificent,” “extraordinary,” or “fantastic.” Occa- sionally, he simply blows a kiss to the sky, seemingly thanking the higher powers for the opportunity to study math at Harvard.
“Before I came to Harvard, I imagined it was going to be a com- petitive place...but it turned out to be quite a friendly department,” Slipper recalls with a grin. He notes that many of the mathematical principles he’s just becoming exposed to were first solved at Har- vard over “Wait, what’s 2010 minus 1848?” years ago. “I’m terrible at arithmetic.”
While we have a hard time believing Slipper is anything but a master when it comes to numbers, we do believe him when he says he’s struggling in his latest pursuit: ballet.
“They give us the moves, and everyone else in the room is able to remember what the moves are; they’re able to move gracefully and somewhat accurately,” he explains longingly. “I can’t remember what the moves are, I can’t orient myself, so I’m constantly looking at the person next to me trying to remember.”
What Slipper doesn’t realize is that he is, in fact, the prima bal- lerina of math class. While he might not necessarily be the most advanced math student (he claims several of his classmates are “the real deal”), he shouts out answers while his peers seem to still be processing the questions. And like a good ballerina, Slipper expertly executes every move of math class, even as he acknowledges how much more he has to learn.
“Part of the evolution of my understanding of mathematics is learning just how ignorant I am,” he says. “I like doing math, so that’s who I am.”