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Sloan Fellowships Awarded to Greene and Treumann

02/28/13

By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 28, 2013

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded prestigious Sloan Research Fellowships to Mathematics Department faculty members Assistant Professors Joshua E. Greene and David Treumann.

Greene and Treumann are among 126 outstanding US and Canadian researchers chosen this year to receive the fellowships, which are given to early-career scientists and scholars whose achievements and potential identify them as rising stars among the next generation of scientific leaders.

“I congratulate Josh and David on their awards, and on the outstanding mathematical research that led to them,” said Mathematics Chairman Professor Solomon Friedberg. “Josh and David are superb scholars and devoted teachers. They and our other assistant professors, an amazingly talented group, are the next generation of intellectual leaders in their fields.”

Greene, who earned his doctorate from Princeton University, researches topics within geometric topology, particularly knot theory, which probes complex geometric structures and has applications to research in the areas of physics and biology.

“The award will allow me to concentrate entirely on my research for a semester in the near future,” Greene said. “In that respect, I would like to repeat a quote from Jonas Salk that has resonated with me since I first heard it in high school: ‘I feel that the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more.’  Naturally, I am very grateful to the Sloan Foundation for that opportunity; their support is tremendous.”

Greene said his area of expertise, while highly theoretical, focuses on structures we make and see on a daily basis – from the knots we use to tie our shoelaces to the twisting contours of a cable-knit sweater. Similar structures are found in efforts to better understand fields like physics and molecular biology.

“Knots come up in applications to theoretical physics and biology, like in the way that DNA knots up when it attempts to replicate,” said Greene. “My own interest is more theoretical and aesthetic. What are the basic properties about knots? How do you tell them apart? How do they relate to the geometry and topology of the three-dimensional space they inhabit? More specifically, I am actively working on problems connected to unknotting knots and looking at the manifolds that result from performing an operation called surgery along them.”

Treumann, who also received his PhD from Princeton, lists research and teaching interests in algebraic geometry and string theory, a highly conceptual field tied to advances in the theoretical realms of both math and physics. Prior to his arrival at BC this year, he taught at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University, where he was also a post-doctoral researcher.

“I am honored and very pleased to receive a Sloan Research Fellowship. I am grateful to the Math Department and the University for the support of my research and teaching. Boston College is a very exciting place to be a mathematician.”

Treumann acknowledged that to the lay audience “string theory” is highly conceptual and focused on the problems the mathematical world presents to itself. But within the mathematics and physics fields it is a frontier space with few boundaries that has helped to advance both fields and their thought leaders.

“String theorists have a hard time making predictions about the real world, but they have made many predictions about pure math,” said Treumann. “These predictions look very strange, even unbelievable, to a mathematician, but mostly they have turned out to be right.  I am part of a big community of mathematicians and physicists working to understand what’s going on.”

Both professors have received research support from the National Science Foundation.

Administered and funded by the Sloan Foundation, the fellowships are awarded in eight scientific fields—chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, evolutionary and computational molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics. Fellows receive $50,000 to be used to further their research.

Greene and Treumann join four BC faculty who received Sloan Fellowships last year: Assistant Professor of Biology Michelle Meyer, Assistant Professor of Physics Ying Ran, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dunwei Wang and Assistant Professor of Psychology Liane Young.