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College of Arts and Sciences

Mathematics Alumni Newsletter

summer 2010

Message from the Chair

Photo of Solomon Friedberg, Chair, Mathematics

When I see a cousin or niece once a year, I am often struck by how much that person has grown. By contrast, while my own children change daily, I’m more aware of the day-to-day process of raising them, from the trips to school with forgotten lunches to homework time to the discussions about bedtime. As I prepare this annual update for you, our Math Department alumni, I think you’ll once again be struck by the changes taking place in Mathematics at BC, and I hope that these changes will excite you as much as they do us. But I also want to mention that these changes, and the achievement on the part of both students and faculty that is their foundation, are the result of daily hard work, and a process of engagement with mathematics that is, for many of us, 24/7. I hope that you, our respected Boston College Mathematics Alumni, still think of mathematics with a similar passion.

The most exciting news this year is of new programs. As I’ll describe in more detail later on, we have secured approval for a new Bachelor of Science degree, while at the same time, we have recruited our first Doctoral class, and also had our Ph.D. degree requirements approved by the requisite university committees. What may not be apparent from these lines are the hours of faculty time that we devoted to formulating, discussing, and finalizing these initiatives.

I think that the care that went in to them will pay dividends to BC students for years to come. I want to reiterate that each and every faculty member in the department values the personal connections that we have made with you over the years, and values the chance to hear from you. And for the goings on at BC, we hope you’ll visit our website often.

Solomon Friedberg
Chair, Mathematics

Departmental Numbers

This year, 46 seniors graduated with a Mathematics major, and an additional 56 with a Math minor. In addition, four graduate students earned an M.A. degree.

Overview 2009-2010

At the undergraduate level, this year we secured approval to award a B.S. in Mathematics, beginning in 2011. To earn a B.S., students will need to complete two new year-long upper-division sequences, one in Algebra and the other in Analysis, as well as an upper-division course in Complex Variables and a range of electives in Mathematics and in one or more cognate disciplines. The new courses in Algebra and Analysis will also prepare motivated undergraduates to continue on to doctoral-level courses (one of our students will take first-year doctoral courses next year, as a junior). We are equally committed to our Bachelor of Arts students, and will continue to offer the B.A. and to support this program in full.

At the graduate level, we’ve admitted our first class of doctoral students, and these students will enter BC this coming Fall. Our initial year of admissions exceeded our best-case scenario: we accepted under 20% of our applicants, and the students coming next year are from Brown, Northeastern, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and the University of Connecticut. We look forward to welcoming these talented individuals to our campus.

The details of our new doctoral program were also put in place and approved this year. We planned a host of new courses, two series of examinations, and the path to thesis research. We will prepare our doctoral students to reach the very frontiers of mathematical knowledge; at the same time, we will teach them to be successful teachers and communicators of mathematics.

The Math Dept continued to work with our undergraduate organization, the Boston College Mathematics Society (BCMS), to bring math-related activities to campus and to foster connections between students and faculty. We co-organized fall and spring Block Parties featuring pizza and faculty advising, a spring student-faculty barbeque, and co-sponsored talks by BC alumnus Dr. Paul Garvey, Chief Scientist, Ops Research at MITRE and by Dr. Amir Aczel, a distinguished author, who spoke on "Mathematics, Physics, and the LHC: the Largest Machine Ever Built." Dr. Aczel also visited us this spring and taught our History of Math course.

Faculty scholarship resulted in several research breakthroughs, with Prof. Ben Howardcomputing global intersection numbers of special cycles on the integral model of a Shimura surface, Prof. Friedberg using methods from statistical mechanics to describe Whittaker functions, and Profs. Jenny Baglivo and Dan Chambers using probabilistic methods to model earthquakes. Prof. Friedberg also had a book-length research monograph accepted by Princeton University Press. Department faculty continued to receive international conference invitations and over the summer and fall they will speak in Europe, Asia and South America. Closer to home, Prof. Mark Reeder’s lecture at a major conference at Harvard is also noteworthy. External research support is climbing steadily, with faculty again receiving new grants from both the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency.

The 2009-2010 academic year marked the second year of a collaboration between the mathematics departments of BC and MIT in the support of a joint BC-MIT Number Theory Seminar. Among the attendees at our seminar was Prof. John Tate, the eminent 85 year old mathematician who just received the Abel Prize. He commented that this was his first time on the BC campus.

The Mathematics Department and the Department of Teacher Education in the Lynch School were co-organizers of a new seminar series in Mathematics Education. Six distinguished speakers from around the globe, including Prof. Paul Sally Jr. (BC ’54) of the University of Chicago, spoke. Each talk attracted a wide audience, including BC faculty and area teachers, superintendents, university faculty, and government officials. Many of the lectures are or soon will be available on BC’s Front Row.

Student Honors

Departmental Honors

Five students met the highly demanding requirements for departmental honors in math: Kaz Filus, Emily Igo, John Lynch, Conor Schlick, and Jeffery Zhang. In addition, 17 students were inducted into Pi Mu Epsilon, the mathematics honor society.

Paul J. Sally, Jr. Distinguished Alumnus Prize

Conor Schlick received the Sally Award, given annually to a graduating senior who has shown true academic distinction in a demanding program in Mathematics. Conor will be entering Northwestern University’s Ph.D. program in Applied Mathematics.

Albert A. Bennett Award

Vittoria Macadino received the Bennett Award, given annually to a graduating mathematics major who has shown a high level of achievement and a desire to teach mathematics. Vittoria looks forward to continuing her study of mathematics education at the Lynch School as she works for her Masters degree.

Department News

Prof. Martin Bridgeman was promoted to Full Professor.

The 2010 Calendar "12 Theorems by Women Mathematicians" featured Prof. Jenny Baglivo.

Visiting Assistant Prof. Jay Pottharst, a number theorist who has been a faculty member here at BC since he received his Ph.D. in 2008, has been awarded a prestigious NSF Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.

Prof. Charles Landraitis will be retiring from the department. Prof. Landraitis joined the BC faculty in 1974, and served as Department Chair from 1989-1992. Prof. Landraitis’s notable last lecture was a presentation on “Probability and Gambling” given as part of the Pi Mu Epsilon induction ceremony.

We are sad to report that retired faculty member Prof. Joseph A. Sullivan passed away this year.

Professor Benson Farb of the University of Chicago was this year’s Boston College Distinguished Lecturer in Mathematics. Prof. Farb is an internationally renowned mathematician who specializes in the interaction between geometry, topology and group theory. The first lecture, "Geometry and the Imagination (with applications)", was videotaped for Front Row. Prof. Farb also met with BC Math Society undergraduates at a lunch sponsored by the department.

Profs. Martin Bridgeman and Tao Li are co-organizers for the 6th William Rowan Hamilton Geometry and Topology Workshop to be held in September at Trinity College Dublin. Professor Eli Grigsby will be one of the speakers. BC and BC-Ireland are conference sponsors.

Contact Information

Please keep us updated with your current contact information.

Mathematics Department
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467-3806

Telephone: 617-552-3750
Fax: 617-552-3789