Academics / Faculty / Upper School

Fighting Crime with Mathematics

By Alan Stob, Upper School Mathematics/Admission Director

Fighting crime is perhaps not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of math. Ask someone on the street what they think about math and unfortunately their answer is probably “Math is boring,” “Math is irrelevant,” or even, “Math is scary.” Math may seem very different from the confusing, unpredictable, and highly relevant business of fighting crime, but math is in fact very important to solving cases. Math is integral to many of the methods police use to solve crime, including fingerprinting, accidents, location tracking, ballistics, decoding, and number-plate reconstruction.


Last week in my Alegbra 2 class, I introduced the field of applied criminal mathematics with one of CBS’s episodes of Numbers.  This crime drama focuses on an FBI team in Los Angeles, led by a mathematically minded young man named Charlie. Charlie’s mathematical contributions are always crucial to the outcome to solve the crime. In this episode, which is based on real events, a man is accused of stock fraud. Charlie used geometric sequences to prove the innocence of the accused man and find the real criminal:

Using the geometric sequence formula of:

formula 1

And the infinite geometric series formula of:

formula 2

In class, we took a closer look at the sequence that Charlie used crime solving techniques. We made hypothetical scenarios of difference pyramid schemes and were able to have a better understand of the intricacy involved as well as the fact that these schemes are impossible to continue for an infinite amount of time. We were able to apply difficult mathematical concepts to real world solutions to better understand the content we were studying. Math is far from boring and irrelevant! As the say in Numbers, “We all use math every day; to predict weather, to tell time, to handle money. Math is more than formulas or equations; it’s logic, it’s rationality, it’s using your mind to solve the biggest mysteries we know.”

Real-world applications like this help to motivate and interest students, who value course content when they see how coursework connects to goals, interests, and concerns. Moreover, skills that are acquired and honed during this type of coursework, such as real-world problem solving, collaboration, self-regulation, skilled communication, technology skills, and community and global awareness, are essential for high-quality work in the future. Using real-world experiences and situations to apply the content learned in the classroom allows students to find value in their education and is essential to developing critical skills for their future success.

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