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Student Veteran

2018-19 Student Veteran of the Year, Craig L. Hanson 

“When I first came to the U, I didn’t have much discipline or respect for myself or others. I was fortunate enough to find both in the Navy and Marine Corps. After a year I realized I wasn’t quite ready for college even though I was a pretty good student in high school. So, I left.

I was looking for a challenge and became a certified commercial diver and a diver medic. I didn’t know then the combination of deep water and medicine was foreshadowing my future and what would make me who I am today. I joined the Navy in 2010 and became a corpsman. I really engaged with my training and became a distinguished graduate from both the Navy Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes, Illinois, and Field Medical Service School at Camp Pendleton, California.

In 2011, I was assigned to Golf Company “Joker” Second Platoon in 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment–The Magnificent Bastards–at Camp Pendleton. A month later I was deployed to Afghanistan. My Marines—who I miss all the time—called me “Doc.” We were assigned to an isolated Forward Operating Base in a notoriously dangerous area of operation in the mountainous area of the Helmand Province.

My platoon and I conducted hundreds of dismounted patrols over a seven-month period. In that time, I treated both wounded Marines and countless local nationals-even saving the life of a wounded enemy combatant. And I had the privilege of teaching first aid techniques to Afghan soldiers. Passing my knowledge on to them.

After my two-and-a-half-year tour I realized I had found my passion for medicine. I returned to the U in 2015 and majored in biology with minor in chemistry. Because of my background in emergency medicine, I’ve looked largely at continuing that training and would like to become a trauma surgeon. That being said, I know enough about medicine to know that I’ve barely grazed the surface and am still keeping an open mind about the exact course in medicine I’ll be taking.”

Spectrum 2018

Spectrum Magazine


Spectrum, the Department of Physics & Astronomy newsletter, is published twice a year. If you do not currently receive our newsletter, please contact Michele Swaner at swaner@science.utah.edu to be added to our mailing list.

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AMS Fellow

“It’s such an honor to be selected to join the Society,” said de Fernex, professor and associate chair of the department. “It’s also gratifying to have my work recognized by my peers for contributing to the profession.”

As a child and throughout his school days, de Fernex always enjoyed math. At the University of Milan, he studied math in the morning and worked as an illustrator at an advertising agency in the afternoon. For a time, he gave up studying math and switched to architecture. “It was while studying architecture that I began to realize my true passion for math,” said de Fernex. “I was on a train to Venice with some friends when it hit me. They were majoring in math and telling me about the things they were learning. In that moment I realized how much I missed it.” He left architecture and advertising and began to see himself as a mathematician.

He completed his undergraduate degree and wrote a dissertation in the field of algebraic geometry. “What I like about algebraic geometry is the balance between intuition and mathematical rigor,” said de Fernex. “The algebraic part of it provides a powerful and rigid structure, which, paradoxically, gives geometry its flexibility.” Algebraic geometry has applications in many fields—for example, certain topics, such as Calabi-Yau manifolds, are important in string theory because they meet the supersymmetry requirement for the six “unseen” spatial dimensions of string theory.

He began working on his Ph.D. at the University of Genoa but later moved to the U.S. to complete his studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The importance of his work was recognized early on, and his research has been well-funded throughout his career. He has received various fellowships as well as support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Simons Foundation. “The funding I received from the U’s John E. and Marva M. Warnock Presidential Chair in Mathematics and the NSF Career grant were especially helpful,” said de Fernex. “They funded my research and provided support for grad students and postdocs. The years supported by the NSF at the Institute for Advanced Study and later by the Simons Fellowship in my sabbatical year allowed me to fully focus on research and collaboration for extended periods of time.”

While de Fernex enjoys doing research, he is equally enthusiastic about teaching. “You never know where or when you’ll find talented students,” he said. “That’s what keeps teaching exciting and fulfilling.”

Catalyst 2018

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AMS Fellow

“I was delighted to learn the news from the AMS,” said Trapa, professor and former chair of the Mathematics Department and currently chair of the Physics & Astronomy Department. “I’m grateful to be recognized in this way.”

Trapa has always been fascinated by mathematics, but his interests drifted as an undergraduate at Northwestern University, first to chemistry, then to physics, before finally returning to mathematics. “I realized that the common thread that I enjoyed most about the basic sciences was the underlying math.” Trapa also credits two a couple of math professors—Michael Stein, emeritus professor, and the late Mark Pinsky—who took him under their wing and “really changed the trajectory of my career.”

After a brief stint doing statistical analysis for the Ford Motor Company, Trapa headed to MIT for his Ph.D. “My time at Ford was a lot of fun, but not for the reasons that my bosses would have liked,” Trapa said, adding that the company had a decent mathematics library where he spent most of his time. At MIT, Trapa studied representation theory with David Vogan, Norbert Wiener Professor of Mathematics. Vogan later became a close friend and collaborator. “Working with David has been one of the great honors of my life. I’m constantly learning from him how to be a better mathematician.”

Trapa held postdoctoral appointments at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and at Harvard before joining the faculty at the U in 2001. His most important contributions involve classifying the kinds of symmetry that can appear in physical and mathematical problems, so-called unitary representations of reductive Lie groups. “In the past few years, there have been some beautiful and unexpected developments in the subject that lead in many new directions,” Trapa said. His work in this area has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Security Agency, and the Simons Foundation. Since 2015, Trapa has served as managing editor for the AMS journal Representation Theory.

Outside of his research, Trapa enjoys working with talented students of mathematics. He helped found the Utah Math Circle for high school students, served as its director for many years, and still lectures regularly in it. “The kind of math that students learn in school is often very different from the experience of actually doing mathematics,” Trapa said. “I think it’s important to give young kids a taste of what mathematics is all about.”