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College of Arts and Sciences

Mathematics Alumni Newsletter

summer 2011

Message from the Chair

Photo of Solomon Friedberg

The excitement in the Mathematics Department is palpable. Our first doctoral students have arrived and they are everything we hoped for. The coffee room and corridors ring with discussions about mathematics. Our undergraduates feel it too, and this, together with our new B.S. degree, has resulted in higher-level undergraduate work and a greater interest in scholarship than ever before. As one student in our new second semester algebra course wrote “Changed the way I think.” Benchmarks of success—student credit hours, number of majors, undergraduate involvement in summer research, faculty publications, external grant support, outside presentations, strong Ph.D. applicants—continue to abound. And we’ve hired four new talented scholars, the crème of an outstanding applicant pool of many hundreds, individuals who emerged from a rigorous interview process designed to select rising academic stars who share our deep commitment to undergraduate education. We are a department that is on the move.

But we’re not insulated from the wider challenges that our country is facing. Our nation’s education system is not producing enough graduates ready for careers in STEM. Federal support for research is likely to remain flat at best. With our budget in crisis, our nation is not making the long-term investments in education and in scientific research that other nations are.

Our path is clear. We will make the most of our opportunity to build excellence. A good thing, for our nation will greatly need well-trained mathematicians, especially ones with the commitment to social justice that a BC education emphasizes.

Solomon Friedberg
Chair, Mathematics


Overview

This year, 51 seniors graduated with a Mathematics major, including eight from our first class of B.S. graduates. An additional 68 students graduated with a Math minor. This is an 11% increase in majors and a 21% increase in minors over a year ago. Five graduate students earned an M.A. in Mathematics.

Eight Mathematics majors will be involved in summer research and training programs in 2011: six at external, federally supported, programs and two who are doing research here on campus, working with Professors Grigsby and Mirollo.

With the help of the energetic student leadership of the Boston College Mathematics Society, this year we found new ways to bring math-related activities to campus and to foster connections between students and faculty. Besides co-organizing fall and spring Block Parties featuring pizza and faculty advising, and a spring student-faculty barbeque, we introduced student lunches with faculty members, pi day events, and we co-sponsored a talk by a former BC graduate who now works at the National Security Agency. This last generated a standing room only crowd. Maybe this was due to her title: “The Secret Lives of Mathematicians: Defending the Nation In A Pair of Chuck Taylors.”

We admitted our second class of doctoral students, sticking to our plan to keep the numbers small and the quality high. Of our five new students, two are international (from the U.K. and Australia), an indication of our growing reputation. Our three new domestic students were undergraduates at Johns Hopkins, the Univ. of Connecticut, and Wellesley.

The department continues to be highly visible both nationally and internationally. Members of the Department gave invited talks at seminars, colloquia, workshops and conferences in a wide range of locations. Besides many places in Massachusetts, these included the domestic venues Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Chicago, Los Angeles, Madison, Manoa, Nashua, New Haven, New York, Orono, Palo Alto, Pasadena, Princeton, Provo, San Diego, Stillwater, Stony Brook, and Wesleyan, and internationally in Canada, Chile, China, Ireland, and Taiwan.

Faculty members made strides forward in number theory, geometry, topology, representation theory, and applied math, from Prof. Tao Li’s algorithm to determine the Heegaard genus of a three-manifold to Prof. Ben Howard’s book-length manuscript on Intersections of Hirzebruch-Zagier divisors and CM cycles. You can find these works (and many others) on their websites. External grant support remains strong.

Examples of our department’s diverse involvement with mathematics: Prof. Baglivo worked on developing computer laboratories to enhance students’ understanding of modern statistics, while Prof. Reeder co-taught a seminar at Harvard on the History of Mathematics. Prof. Friedberg served on two MIT doctoral thesis committees. Faculty members served on the board of five non-profits: two concerned with K-12 math education (Prof. Friedberg), one concerned with girls in math (Prof. Grigsby), one concerned with Tanzanian Communities (Prof. Jenson); one concerned with the Museum of Math (Prof. Kenney). And we are involved outside of math too: Prof. Ned Rosen performed original tunes at the BC Arts Festival.

The 2010-2011 academic year marked the third year of collaboration between the Mathematics Departments of BC and MIT in the support of a joint BC-MIT Number Theory Seminar, while the Mathematics Department and the Department of Teacher Education in the Lynch School were once again co-organizers of a seminar series in Mathematics Education.


Student Honors

Departmental and External Honors

Five students met the highly demanding requirements for departmental honors in math: Michael Belfanti, Joseph Czop, Jennifer Evans, William Glennon and Jack Wimberley. In addition, 19 students were inducted into Pi Mu Epsilon, the Mathematics honor society. Nathan Kono received a Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellowship for Aspiring Teachers of Color.

Paul J. Sally, Jr. Distinguished Alumnus Prize

Michael Belfanti received the Sally Award, given annually to a graduating senior who has shown true academic distinction in a demanding program in Mathematics. Michael will be entering Ohio State University’s Ph.D. program in Mathematics.

Albert A. Bennett Award

Jennifer Meunier and Allison Rosshirt 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. Jennifer and Allison look forward to continuing their study of mathematics education at the Lynch School as they work for their Masters degrees.


Department News

This year we hired two Assistant Professors in number theory and related areas, Dawei Chen(Algebraic Geometry) and Dubi Kelmer (Quantum Chaos), and two in geometry/topology, John Baldwin and Joshua Greene (both in Heegaard Floer Homology). Profs. Chen, Greene and Kelmer will begin their appointments next fall, while Prof. Baldwin will begin his appointment in January 2012.

The distinguished number theorist Peter Sarnak, Eugene Higgins Professor of Mathematics at Princeton University and permanent member of the Institute for Advanced Study's School of Mathematics, was the fourth annual Boston College Distinguished Lecturer in Mathematics. Prof. Sarnak gave three lectures on “Randomness in Number Theory” and met with Boston College students (both undergraduate and graduate) and faculty during his visit.

This summer, we are pleased to be hosting the Clavius Group, a group of Catholic mathematicians who spend four weeks together each year sharing common bonds of faith and intellectual pursuits. They will offer advanced seminars as well as a full day Symposium on Mathematics and Religious Discourse, entitled “Faith, Science and Mathematics.”

Profs. Martin Bridgeman and Tao Li are once again co-organizers for the 7th William Rowan Hamilton Geometry and Topology Workshop to be held in September at Trinity College Dublin. BC and BC-Ireland are conference sponsors, with principal support from the National Science Foundation.

Profs. Robert Bond and Richard Jenson will be retiring from the department. These two colleagues have contributed 69 years of service at Boston College between them, and each has served as Department Chair. We salute them for their years of dedication to BC students and to Mathematics.


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
Email: math-alum@bc.edu