Mathematics Alumni Newsletter

summer 2008

message from the chair

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Photo of Solomon Friedberg, Chair, Mathematics

When I joined the faculty 12 years ago, I was struck by the intense loyalty that so many people—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—felt for BC. A dozen years later, it’s easy for me to see why. As BC as a whole, and the Math department in particular, prepare to reach new heights in our accomplishments, we hope to enhance our connection to you, our valued alumni, with an annual letter. In this first such, we report on some of the highlights of the academic year 2007-2008. One of my hopes for the future is to encourage more interaction with our alumni. To give three examples, a math major opens up many wonderful career paths, and we are constantly trying to get the word out to BC students about the range of opportunities it offers. If you live in or pass through the Boston area and would like to meet with students to talk to them about this, please let us know. Second, each year the department offers talks from distinguished scholars. They’re listed on our website. If one of them looks interesting to you, please feel free to attend. We’d love to have you do so. And I know that I speak for all faculty when I say that we value the personal connections that we have made over the years. Keep in touch—we will truly appreciate it.

Solomon Friedberg
Chair, Mathematics

Departmental Numbers

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This year, 45 seniors graduated with a Mathematics major, and an additional 34 with a Math minor. Six graduate students earned their M.A.s. Overall, student credit hours in math increased by 2.6% over the prior year.

Overview of 2007-2008

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This has been an exciting year for Mathematics at BC. At the undergraduate level, we worked 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. From a fall Block Party featuring pizza and faculty advising to a special lecture by award-winning author Barry Cipra on Venn diagrams to a spring ice cream party to the end-of-year BCMS barbeque, we enjoyed a high level of engagement.

Academically, BC students continue to excel. As one example, ten undergraduates took a total of 24 graduate courses in math last year. Most of these students will be going on to pursue an advanced degree in the mathematical sciences. We continued to enhance our offerings for future teachers, with a new upper-division elective on Euclid’s Elements emphasizing mathematical reasoning as well as presentation skills. Besides this, four faculty—Profs. Cheung, Friedberg, Reeder and Rosen—visited area high schools to watch BC students do their student teaching in math, and to serve as mentors.

Faculty scholarship reached a new high, with papers in top journals, international conference invitations, and external support all climbing steadily. Two highlights: Professor Benjamin Howard received a Sloan Foundation Fellowship in 2007 in recognition of his outstanding work in number theory, and Professor Rob Meyerhoff and his research collaborators were written up in Science magazine for their proof that the Weeks manifold is indeed the smallest possible hyperbolic three-manifold.

This year the Math Department underwent a comprehensive external review, our first since 1994. We prepared a report of several hundred pages describing our teaching, scholarship, service and our vision for the future. Internal feedback was followed by the visit of an external review committee consisting of Prof. B. Farb, a topologist at the University of Chicago; Prof. B. Gross, a number theorist at Harvard who is also a former Dean of Harvard College; and Prof. F. Shahidi, a representation theorist who is a Distinguished Professor at Purdue. This committee met with students, both undergraduate and graduate, faculty, and the BC administration. Their report is very positive about the department and encourages us to envision substantial changes but to preserve the many excellent aspects (including our “excellence in teaching”—their words) of our present programs. Next year we hope to report to you in more detail on the enhancements to take place. Our goal is a program in mathematics of international renown.


Student Honors


Four students met the highly demanding requirements for departmental honors in Math: Justin Henkel, Brendan Keenan, Michael Musty, and Sebastian Skardal.


Brendan Keenan
The Sally Award is given annually to a graduating senior who has shown true academic distinction in a demanding program in Mathematics. The award is named for Dr. Paul Sally Jr. (’54, MA ’56) who is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Chicago and winner of the BC Alumni Award for Excellence in Education. Brendan will be starting graduate school in Biostatistics at Harvard this fall.


Colleen A. Sampson
The Bennett Award is presented annually to a graduating mathematics major who has shown a high level of achievement and a desire to teach mathematics. The award was instituted in 1980 in honor of Dr. Albert A. Bennett. Colleen will be pursuing her master’s degree at the LSOE this fall.


Department News

Professors Benjamin Howard and Tao Li have been awarded tenure in recognition of their outstanding teaching and scholarship. 

Fearless Symmetry: Exposing the Hidden Patterns of Numbers, by Professors Avner Ash and Robert Gross, will soon be released in paperback by Princeton University Press. 

Professor Mark Reeder has been awarded a new three-year National Science Foundation grant for his research on explicit Langlands correspondences. 

The department launched the Boston College Distinguished Lecturer in Mathematics series this year. Professor John Horton Conway, holder of the John von Neumann Chair of Mathematics at Princeton University, was the speaker. He gave three well-attended lectures, met with faculty and grad students, and illustrated elements of game theory at a pizza lunch for undergraduates. 

The third edition of Introduction to Linear Programming and Game Theory by recently retired professors Jerry Keough and Paul Thie has been published. 

Professor Avner Ash has been named an editor of the Journal of Number Theory

Professor and Chair Sol Friedberg was a featured speaker this summer at an education conference sponsored by the Centro de Modelamiento Matemático at the University of Chile, and at a number theory conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

Professors Martin Bridgeman and Tao Li are co-organizers for the fourth William Rowan Hamilton Geometry and Topology Workshop to be held at Trinity College Dublin. BC and BC-Ireland are conference sponsors. 

Dr. Jay Pottharst will join the department in Fall 2008 as a three-year postdoctoral scholar. Dr. Pottharst, who has just finished his Ph.D. at Harvard in number theory, turned down positions at Columbia, McGill and Stanford to come to Boston College.


We Need You!

Would you be willing to be interviewed for our website? 

Would you like to talk to our Undergraduate Math Club about your career experiences?


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