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Faculty Spotlight

Tom Alberts

Tom Alberts, assistant professor of mathematics, has a wide range of research interests in statistical mechanics and probability theory.

Since joining the U in 2013, Alberts has worked with numerous undergraduate and graduate students, including Mackenzie Simper – who won a prestigious Churchill Scholarship in 2016 and is now at Cambridge University.

“Working with students on research problems is probably the best aspect of being a math professor. A student’s curiosity about math is infectious, and it is very rewarding to see them become attached to a specific problem, gain their own intuition for it, and try out their own ideas for attacking it. Students often have a completely original perspective on old problems that, with proper guidance, can often lead to significant breakthroughs,” says Alberts.

Starting in 2015, with the direction of Alberts, Simper worked on two challenging research projects. One focused on the stochastic heat equation on Markov chains. The second studied the Bak-Sneppen model, a simplified model of evolution that incorporates natural selection and spatial interaction between species.

In 2016, Alberts, Simper, and Ga-Yeong Lee, a former student from Alberts’ previous position at Caltech, published a study in Stochastics on the backwards Markov chain for the Bak-Sneppen model of biological evolution. They derived and used the corresponding reversibility equations to compute the stationary distribution of the model in a relatively simple way.

In 2015, Alberts received a University of Utah Funding Incentive Seed Grant to complete a study on Convex Geometry and Last Passage Percolation. He worked with Professor Eric Cator from Radboud University in Nijmegen (the Netherlands), and Utah students Justin Tse and Daniel Lee on trying to decipher the convex geometry behind the problem. This has applications towards the so-called universality aspects of the maxima of correlated random variables, which is a problem of fundamental importance in statistics. The funding just finished in January 2017.

He recently received a National Science Foundation grant of nearly $50,000 to support the semester long program on KPZ Universality and Directed Polymers currently being held at the Centre International de Rencontres Mathématiques in Luminy, France. The funding is being used to support the travel costs to allow young researchers from U.S. based institutions to attend this highly visible and important program in an extremely hot research field.

He also has a Simons Foundation grant that will run until August 2021.

Alberts will describe the beautiful mathematics behind branching processes at a “Science at Breakfast” talk on April 12 at the Hilton Hotel. By invitation only. Contact Paige Berg for details, (801) 587-8098 or berg@science.utah.edu.

Last Updated: 1/25/18