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Chen Earns NSF Honor

Asst. Professor Dawei Chen (Mathematics) Photo by Caitlin Cunningham

By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: Jan. 30, 2014

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dawei Chen, whose research focuses on topics in algebraic geometry, has received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, the agency’s most prestigious grant for junior faculty.

The five-year, $429,359 grant will support Chen’s exploration of Teichmueller dynamics, a field that probes the geometry of points, their surface characteristics and their movement, or orbit, through certain spaces. Chen plans to use algebraic geometry and dynamical systems in an effort to identify previously unseen connections between these two branches of modern mathematics.

“Dynamics is similar to advanced calculus and my expertise is more in the area of algebra,” said Chen. “I plan to use algebraic tools to describe this dynamic movement. So, in a sense, I hope to create a bridge between these two areas of mathematics.”

Chen said he’s honored to receive the NSF award, which recognizes junior faculty for “innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology.” He said the award will allow him to expand his research capacity, share findings through courses for undergraduate and graduate students, and host workshops and symposia on the topic.

“This funding will give me the opportunity to travel to work with colleagues or to bring my colleagues to BC,” said Chen. “I will also be organizing workshops to encourage undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs in their research. We’ll also be working on some summer projects and programs for undergraduates and graduate students. It’s great to have the resources to be able to do these things.”

Chen joined the BC faculty in 2011, after spending three years as a research assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Peking University and his doctorate from Harvard University. He also served as a post-doctoral fellow at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.

His research has been published in journals including Geometry & Topology, Advances in Mathematics, and the American Journal of Mathematics.

While Chen’s work is considered “pure” mathematical research, he hopes that his discoveries will ultimately find application in other scientific disciplines. Only time will tell, he noted.

“This is theoretical work,” said Chen. “However, pure math may look very applicable in 10 or 20 years. You never know, but sometimes our results are surprisingly relevant to other subjects, like physics, astronomy or computer science. In the end, really good research in pure mathematics often turns out to have applications to our daily life. That is the beauty of doing this kind of research.”

Chen’s CAREER Award continues an impressive string of achievements for the Mathematics Department, including James P. McIntyre Professor of Mathematics Solomon Friedberg’s selection as a fellow of the American Mathematical Society last fall, a Simons Fellowship to Professor Martin Bridgeman last spring, Sloan Research Fellowships to Assistant Professors Joshua E. Greene and David Treumann, a National Science Foundation Career Award to Assistant Professor Elisenda Grigsby and election as Fellow of the American Mathematical Society for Professor Avner Ash.