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BC Mathematician Receives NSF CAREER Award

CHESTNUT Hill, Mass. (May 2012) — J. Elisenda Grigsby, an assistant professor of mathematics at Boston College, has received a CAREER award, the National Science Foundation's most important prize for junior faculty, in support of her work in low-dimensional topology.

Elisenda Grigsby
Elisenda Grigsby

The award, which recognizes “innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology,” will support a project whose broad aim is to improve understanding of the topology of 3- and 4-dimensional spaces, specifically the properties of these spaces that remain unchanged under stretching and contracting, but not under tearing and gluing.

Grigsby's research focuses on knot theory, the study of loops imbedded in 3-dimensional space. The mathematical objects she studies are relevant to fields ranging from information technology to DNA research.

"Topological ideas underpin the development of efficient computer chips, data structures, and information networks,” she explained, "and basing quantum computing algorithms on large-scale features of a quantum system minimizes their susceptibility to random error.

"Moreover, the shapes of molecules and proteins determine their electrical properties and biological functions,” she said.

The prestigious NSF award, which supports the early career-development activities of teacher-scholars "who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization," will provide $400,000 for the project over the next five years.

"The new ways to analyze structures such as knots, braids and tangles that Professor Grigsby is pioneering have the potential to settle long-standing mathematical questions," said Mathematics Professor and department chair Solomon Friedberg. "They also have the potential to provide new tools for science—tools that could be applied to fundamental questions such as how DNA behaves in cells.  I congratulate Professor Grigsby on her CAREER award, and look forward to the contributions to topology and to BC that it will enable."

Grigsby, who teaches courses in linear algebra, advanced calculus and algebraic topology, holds an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Harvard University and a doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley. Prior to joining the University in 2009, she was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia University and held a position at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute.

Her contributions have appeared in Advances in Mathematics, Geometry and Topology, and International Mathematics Research Notices, among other publications.

--Patti Delaney is deputy director of the Office of News & Public Affairs;