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What It Means to Meet a Mathematician

What It Means to Meet a Mathematician


May 21, 2024
Photo above: Selvi Kara. Credit: Aaron Windhorst

The importance of representation in a field of study cannot be overstated.

"This is the most meaningful project I’ve ever been involved in," says Dr. Selvi Kara, one of the co-founders of Meet a Mathematician, a growing collection of short video interviews with mathematicians. "Being a part of this project and meeting the amazing mathematicians we interviewed has changed the way I think about the mathematics community."

Meet a Mathematician's goal is to introduce students to role models and encourage their participation in the mathematical sciences. The project also strives to foster a sense of community. By hearing personal stories of mathematicians through short videos, Kara hopes the students, especially from underrepresented groups in STEM and particularly in math, feel a sense of belonging and recognize that there is a place for them in mathematics.

"This project made me feel connected to a community I didn’t know existed before," Kara says. "For people who are watching our interviews, it helps them in ways that are beyond what we could have imagined when we started Meet a Mathematician." Kara launched Meet a Mathematician in March 2020 with Dr. Padi Fuster, an NSF ASCEND Postdoctoral Fellow at the CU Boulder, Mathematics Department and one of her close friends.

Kara is the recipient of the 2023 Distinguished Service Award from the College of Science where, at the time, she was a Science Research Initiative (SRI) postdoctoral fellow at the U. Prior to that, she was a research associate in the Department of Mathematics. Kara received her undergraduate degree in mathematics from Istanbul University, and after graduation, she attended Nesin Mathematics Village every summer until she moved to the U.S. for her PhD at Tulane University.

Kara with her SRI Chip-Firing Stream Students

Nesin Mathematics Village played a crucial role in Kara's growth as a mathematician. "That’s where I learned about various fields of mathematics not covered in my undergraduate math curriculum," says Kara. "It was at the Math Village where I first learned about combinatorial commutative algebra, the field of my research, and I realized that it was the kind of math I imagined myself doing in the future."

“Combinatorial commutative algebra is a field that lies at the intersection of combinatorics and commutative algebra,” Kara says. “I really enjoy working in this field as it allows me to use tools from both disciplines to answer algebraic questions.”

Kara is interested in translating complex algebraic ideas and notions into ones that are more accessible, as well as finding ways to express such concepts using figures. Recently, Kara’s research has expanded towards a new field called algebraic combinatorics, and she works on problems related to chip-firing games and parking functions in this field.

As part of her role as an SRI fellow, Kara led the higher-dimensional chip-firing SRI stream during the Spring-Fall 2023 semesters and mentored eight undergraduates. The students involved in Kara’s SRI stream presented their research at the 2024 Joint Mathematics Meeting in San Francisco in January. Kara continues her research with undergraduate and graduate students at Bryn Mawr College, and she still mentors her students from the U even though she is no longer there.

As a first-generation individual, Kara deeply understands the importance of having role models and mentors, and she will continue her work in Meet a Mathematician. This project is a way for Kara to give back to her community and contribute to a positive change in the culture of mathematics.

 


by CJ Siebeneck

You can read recent research by Selvi Kara here and here. Also, "A Conversation on Meet a Mathematician and Math For All," with Padi Fuster in Practices and Policies: Advocating For Students of Color in Mathematics, 

Getting Stuff Done: Thomas Yassmin

Getting Stuff Done

Thomas Yassmin


May 20, 2024
Above: Tight end Thomas Yassmin, MStat '24 in Mathematics at play during Utah vs Weber State, September 2023. Credit: University of Utah

 

As an undergraduate, Yassmin completed a double major in quantitative analysis of markets and organizations (QAMO) and mathematics with an emphasis in statistics. This spring he graduated with a master's in statistics.

Balancing football and academics was challenging, but Yassmin performed this balancing act well, earning a spot on the PAC-12 Academic Honor Roll multiple times during his five years at the U.

Yassmin has advice for other students balancing busy schedules: "You've just got to prioritize certain things. There are a lot of sacrifices that have to be made. Sometimes weekends are just not the weekends you want to have, or your friends ask you to come over and you just have to suck it up and put your head down for a couple hours and get your work done first before you do anything else. Little things add up, an hour here, an hour there, dedicating times where it's undistracted work. By the end of the week, it accumulates. I think that's the thing, just sacrificing certain amounts of time to make sure you get your stuff done first."

Yassmin was fortunate to have had some stellar professors, especially Lajos Horvath, from whom he took multiple classes, and Tom Alberts, his project advisor. They understood his unique position and helped him navigate the balancing act between athletics and math. Yassmin expressed that he probably wouldn't have made it through his MStat degree without them.

Read the rest of Thomas's story by Angie Gardiner at math.utah.edu

Math Faculty Retiree Jim Keener

Math Faculty Retiree Jim Keener


THE RETIREMENT OF DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR JIM KEENER LEAVES AN UNFILLABLE HOLE IN THE WORLD-RENOWNED MATHEMATICAL BIOLOGY PROGRAM THAT HE DID SO MUCH TO BUILD.

Or at least would if he was not planning to continue to provide wisdom and insight to students and faculty alike from his office where the door (and minds) is (are) always open.

Jim joined the University of Utah faculty in the Department of Mathematics in 1978 and started a research program that set the standard for mathematical biology by combining creative modeling built on the devilish details of complex biological phenomena with development of the new mathematics needed to understand those models and answer biological questions. His highly influential work on spiral waves emerged from his interest in cardiac arrythmias, and his perhaps even more influential work on ranking (which inspired the first version of Google’s original PageRank algorithm) emerged from his interest in college football.

His three books, Principles of Applied Mathematics (1988), Mathematical Physiology (with James Sneyd, and winner of the 1998 Association of American Publishers’ “Best New Title in Mathematics”), and the new Biology in Time and Space: A PDE Modelling Approach (2021) are paragons of exposition and laid the foundation for the rigorous and deep applied mathematics that underlie any serious quantitative study of biology.

Jim is the visionary leader for the U’s graduate program in mathematical biology. The success of this program reflects his own strengths: inspiring mentorship, biological and mathematical breadth, the joy of collaboration, ability to communicate with both mathematicians and biologists, and the taste to identify and solve important problems. The reach of this program is extraordinary, with graduates holding leadership roles in research universities, liberal arts colleges, industry, and in the mathematical biology community. Students in the program today have a built-in international network of friends, colleagues and mentors.

Like most people who get this much done, Jim is fun to be around. His “cabin parties” are legendary, although what actually happens there can never be revealed. Dinner with Jim is a delightful mix of challenging debate and convivial laughs. His joy in inquiry and in people builds on a deep spirituality and love of nature that underpin the wisdom that we look forward to sharing for many more years.

by Fred Adler
Professor of mathematics and Director of the School of Biological Sciences

Of Honeybees and Carbon Emissions: SIAM Modeling Competition

Of Honeybees and Carbon Emissions


LAST NOVEMBER, THE U’S STUDENT CHAPTER OF THE SOCIETY FOR INDUSTRIAL AND APPLIED MATHEMATICS (SIAM) HELD A MODELING COMPETITION FOR UNDERGRADUATES.

Teams chose one of three modeling problems that were based on real-world situations and worked together to analyze the problem, generate figures and results, and write a report about their findings.

The reward for the winning team was their registration fee, paid-in-full, for the COMAP Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM) in February 2024. The U’s SIAM student chapter hosted this competition to help participants prepare for the MCM and give them confidence in their abilities as scientific modelers.

Two teams participated in the contest, one with two members, Maxwell Archibald and Jack Perry, and another team with three members, Joshua Villarreal, Garrett Iverson and Dominic Cinaglia. Archibald and Perry studied the population dynamics of honeybees and won first place with their thorough and well-organized report while Villarreal, Iverson and Cinaglia looked at CO2 levels and their correlation with climate change which won second place for their strong statistical analysis and informative report. The judges were so impressed with the quality of both teams’ submissions they decided to fund both for the MCM in February.

The U SIAM student chapter is extremely grateful for the financial support of the Department of Mathematics, without which the chapter would not have been able to fund these five deserving students.


Aaron L. Fogelson

In late March SIAM also announced the 2024 Class of SIAM Fellows. The group includes Aaron L. Fogelson, professor of mathematics, recognized for pioneering work on mathematical modeling and numerical methods for platelet aggregation and blood clotting. Through their various contributions, SIAM Fellows help advance the fields of applied mathematics, computational science, and data science. Read more about Fogelson’s recognition here.

Distinguished Professor: Davar Khoshnevisan

davar khoshnevisan, Distinguished Professor


May 1, 2024

Above; Davar Khoshnevisan. Credit: Mathew Crawley

 

A member of the Department of Mathematics since 1993, Davar Khoshnevisan became a full Professor in 2001 and was chair of the department from 2017 to 2023. His appointment to the rank of Distinguished Professor beginning July 1 is a recognition of his outstanding contributions to the research, teaching, and service missions of the department.

Khoshnevisan’s research in probability theory spans three sub-concentrations: mathematical statistics, multi-parameter random processes, and stochastic partial differential equations. These topics are mathematically sophisticated yet have immediate applicability in engineering and applied sciences. His work in mathematical statistics is used in high dimensional data analysis, while his research in stochastic partial differential equations has been used to model the intermittency properties of sunspot phenomena over time. His work on multi-parameter random processes led to the resolution of several long-standing conjectures on fractal properties of random fields, some of which dated back to the 1930s.

A prolific author of over 135 research papers that have been cited over 1,800 times, fully one-quarter of Khoshnevisan’s articles have appeared in Annals of Probability or Probability Theory and Related Fields, the most well-regarded journals in the field.

Additionally, Khoshnevisan is known as an excellent expositor. His textbook Probability is used in graduate-level probability courses across the country, and his monograph Multiparameter Processes is the standard in the field. His upcoming book Gaussian Analysis is intended for beginning researchers. He has also served in an editorial role for several prestigious journals.

Related to his publications, Khoshnevisan has received numerous accolades in recognition of his prodigious research output and his professional service, including in 1998 the Rollo Davidson prize. In 2015 he was made a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and in 2020 he was elected as a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society. Then, in 2018 he was recognized as a Medallion Lecturer at the Institute of Mathematical Statistics’ annual conference.

Of special note is Khoshnevisan’s mentorship of young mathematicians. At least 50 of his research articles are jointly authored with his postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. At the U, Khoshnevisan has directly supervised 14 postdoctoral fellows, 10 PhD students, and nine master's of statistics students.

Khoshnevisan has been continuously funded by the National Science Foundation since 1997, with his most recent grant extending into 2026. This is a remarkable achievement given the exponential increase in probability research during that period and is an extraordinary validation of his research program. Equally impressive is that he was able to maintain his research funding while taking on the additional responsibilities of department chair. In 2020 alone, while chair and managing the pandemic, he published five remarkable articles on spatial ergodicity of solutions to stochastic partial differential equations. Already this work is being recognized as fundamentally important in the field.

“I am thrilled that Davar Khoshnevisan has been selected as a Distinguished Professor for the 2023-24 academic year,” says Department Chair Tommaso de Fernex. “This is a great accomplishment and well deserved recognition.”

by Tom Alberts

2024 Class of SIAM Fellows: Aaron L. Fogelson

2024 Class of SIAM Fellows: Aaron L. Fogelson


April 4, 2024

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) has honored Aaron L. Fogelson's distinguished work with its fellows program.

 

This year's 26 esteemed fellows were nominated in recognition of their outstanding research and service to the community. Through their various contributions, SIAM Fellows form a crucial group of individuals helping to advance the fields of applied mathematics, computational science, and data science.

A professor of mathematics at the U, Fogelson, who lists his research interests as mathematical physiology, modeling of blood clotting, gels and viscoelastic fluids and numerical solution of partial differential equations (PDEs), is being recognized by SIAM for his pioneering work on mathematical modeling and numerical methods for platelet aggregation and blood clotting.

"Clotting is an extremely complex process with physical, chemical, and cell biological components which is essential to maintaining the integrity of our circulatory system," he writes on his faculty profile. "When it malfunctions the consequences can be dire, including heart attack and stroke. Clotting is subject to intense research by laboratory and medical scientists but its complexity makes it very difficult to think through how it works or to make predictions about how well medical interventions to treat clotting problems will work. That is where mathematics and the work I do comes in."

On his lab's website, Fogelson writes, "Because transmural pressure differences vary greatly in the circulatory system and because blood flowing at different speeds through vessels of widely varying diameter leads to great variation in shear stress, the challenges of forming a blood clot to stop the outflow of blood differ substantially in different vascular beds. The system that has evolved to cope with these disparate challenges involves the aggregation of cells (platelets) and the formation of fibrous protein gel (fibrin). In addition, there is a complex, powerful, and tightly regulated enzyme network (the coagulation system) involving reactions on the surfaces of activated platelets, that leads to production of an enzyme, thrombin, that is key both in activating platelets so they can cohere to one another and in forming the protein fibrin from which the fibrin mesh is constructed."

40 Years of Modeling Clotting

The Fogelson research group has been developing models of many of the disparate aspects of blood clotting for close to 40 years. "We have built and analyzed models based on PDEs, ODEs [ordinary differential equations], or SDEs [stochastic differential equations] and, as needed, we have developed novel numerical methods with which to study the PDE-based models," writes Fogelson.

Projects of current interest in this research space includes, first, developing ODE-based compartment models of platelet deposition and coagulation under flow that treat developing thrombi as porous materials and which can track resulting flow, the growth of aggregates, and the biochemistry of platelet signaling and coagulation from the initiation of clot formation through vessel occlusion. The goal is a high-throughput simulation tool that will allow extensive investigation of model behavior as model parameters and other inputs are varied to reflect different physiological situations and disease states.

A second project of interest is integrating the Fogelson lab's models of fibrin polymerization with models of platelet deposition and coagulation under flow during arterial thrombosis, to produce a more comprehensive model of the clot formation process.

Fogelson has been a faculty member at the U since 1986 after earning his PhD at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences of New York University and working as a post doctoral researcher at first the University of California, Berkeley and then the Courant Institute. In addition to his faculty position in the U's Department of Mathematics, he is adjunct professor of biomedical engineering, and was Associate Dean for Research of the College of Science in the period 2014-17. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and/or the National Institutes of Health continuously since 1982.
Read about all 26 SIAM fellows announced here.

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U Fulbright Scholar Semi-Finalists 2024

Three Science Students selected as Fulbright SEMI-finalists


March 21, 2024

Nine U students selected as Fulbright finalists; three of them call the College of Science home.

The University of Utah is proud to announce that nine students have been selected as semi-finalists for the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Three are affiliated with the College of Science in the Fulbright area of Research.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, this nationally competitive program supports academic exchanges between the United States and over 140 countries around the world. Selected program participants pursue graduate study, conduct research, or serve as English Teaching Assistants abroad. See us.fulbrightonline.org.

For 2024-2025, the University of Utah submitted 19 Fulbright applications. Its cohort of semi-finalists represents multiple schools and colleges, including the College of Education, College of Humanities, College of Science, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, David Eccles School of Business, and the Honors College. The group includes two students who intend to enter graduate programs, three students who proposed research projects, and four students who aim to serve as English Teaching Assistants. Projected countries include Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Making it to the semi-finalist round is a significant accomplishment for these students and means that their applications have been forwarded by the Fulbright National Screening Committee to the Fulbright Commission or U.S. Embassy in the host country for final review. Finalists will be notified later this spring, with the timing of notifications varying by country.

Below are the three finalists from the College of Science all in the category of Research.

Marina Gerton (B.S. in Biology and Chemistry, December 2023) aims to undertake a research project at the University of Costa Rica under the mentorship of Mario Espinoza that focuses on the secret life of snappers--insights from fish movements. Gerton got an early start in science. She graduated from West High School in Salt Lake City where she participated in the 2018 University of Utah Science and Engineering Fair with her project "Mucoadhesive HA-based film releasing metronidazole to treat bacterial vaginosis." Her ambition is to pursue a PhD in marine science, specifically focusing on conservation research.

"While I had a slightly different focus when I first started in the lab," she says, "I’m now working on using paper and plant waste products (think recycled paper, yard clippings, agricultural waste, etc.) as, essentially, a food source for this really interesting bacteria Teredinibacter turnerae." Currently working in Eric Schmidt's lab in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, she says that "one of the most interesting aspects of her research is that the bacteria she works with live in symbiosis with another organism, shipworms, and actually grow within specialized host cells in the shipworms’ gill tissue." It’s especially interesting, she states, as we know this species produces various compounds of medicinal interest, and "we’re still able to see production of those compounds when it’s grown on these waste products."

Gerton loves boxing and swimming, but is quick to say that she loathes running "with a passion." She also claims that watching commercials for Best Friends or the WWF can make her cry. (She avoids them along with pineapple on her pizza.) Finally, what would she do if she had more time outside of academics? One word: bake.

Moses Samuelson-Lynn (HBS in Math, BA in German, Spring 2024) aims to research “A New Set of Efficient Initial Variables for Cluster Algebras of Finite Mutation Type” at the Max Plank Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Germany. His main interest is in pure mathematics, especially number theory, analysis, geometric graph theory, geometric group theory and algebraic geometry.

His undergraduate research has led him to multiple presentations at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. His ambition is to earn a PhD in pure mathematics with the goal of becoming a research professor.

Samuelson-Lynn lives in West Valley City and he enjoys playing piano, bicycle riding, chess, origami and programming. In addition to his Fulbright aspirations, he will be joining a research team in Germany over the summer of 2024 directly after graduation. He will be investigating applications of subatomic-scale sensitivity of nitrogen vacancy centers in ultra-pure diamond at GSI Helmholtz in Darmstadt, Germany. He is completing an honors thesis on the classification of surfaces and is a member of the university German club.  UPDATE (4/3/2024): Moses Samuelson-Lynn has been announced as a finalist and will now be participating in the program as Fulbright scholar. Congratulations!

 

Catherine Warner (HBS, Math'19; Ph.D. in Math, Spring 2025) is a graduate student in the mathematics department where she anticipates earning her PhD in 2025. She aims to undertake a research project titled “Semiduality Groups: An Analog of Duality Groups” at the University of Sannio in Italy.

Werner's path to mathematics wasn’t exactly obvious. "I began undergrad as a biomedical engineering student," she says. "And even before that I mostly played golf throughout my earlier schooling while secretly reading classical philosophy in my free time,"  She quickly realized that engineering wasn’t enough. "I realized that ever since my early reading as a child, I’m used to expecting some deeper structures to reality, some sort of a deeper meaning. I just didn’t know how to find it."

Following the completion of her undergraduate degree, and partly pushed by that curiosity "and partly for lack of anything better to do," she adds, "I signed on for abstract math. I did so with hesitation because it seemed to me to be airy, lacking contact with reality. But the more I pursued geometric group theory, the more I became fascinated. Because I realized something pretty fundamental: One of the ways of finding hidden structures of the world is math — the amazing pursuit of the human mind, attempting to penetrate and order reality by following the structure of the mind itself."  UPDATE (3/21/2024): Catherine Warner has been announced as a finalist and will now be participating in the program as Fulbright scholar. Congratulations!

____________________

Fulbright alumni from the United States and around the world have gone on to achieve distinction in government, science, the arts, business, philanthropy, and education. Among the ranks of Fulbright alumni are 62 Nobel Prize recipients, 78 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, 89 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 41 current or former heads of state or government.

Fulbright semi-finalists from the University of Utah were advised throughout the application process by the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships (ONCS) housed in the Honors College. ONCS staff members assist outstanding students and alumni in developing competitive applications, preparing for interviews, and securing University endorsements for a variety of prestigious nationally competitive scholarships, including Fulbright.

You can learn about all of the Fulbright semi-finalists at the U here.

The 2025-2026 Fulbright competition will open on April 2, 2024. To learn more, contact Alison Shimko, the University of Utah’s Fulbright Director and the Associate Director of ONCS, at alison.shimko@utah.edu or consult nationallycompetitivescholarships.utah.edu.

Nash Ward Receives 2024 PME Speaker Award

Nash Ward Receives 2024 PME Speaker Award

Nash Ward has always wanted to visit all seven continents.  So, in high school when he saw that Professor Ken Golden made trips to Antarctica as part of his research on sea ice, he reached out to see if he could be a part of the team.

 

Nash’s undergraduate research on sea ice began his first semester as a freshman at the University of Utah.  Under Golden’s mentorship he has been working in mathematical geophysics, looking at the fractal dimension of the sea ice pack, with a primary focus on the brine microstructure.  He also looks at how these brine pathways are formed and what the fractal properties have to do with that.  On a larger scale, he looks at ice floes in the sea ice pack and how that geometry is formed.  The brine microstructure is responsible for a lot of the physical properties of sea ice, including electromagnetic, thermal, and fluid transport properties.  On a larger scale, the orientation of ice floes helps to protect the ice pack from surface waves that would break up the pack.  Understanding these structures is an important component in modeling the role sea ice plays in the bigger picture of climate change.

Nash had the opportunity to present his research at the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) held in San Francisco, CA in January 2024.  There were over 5,500 participants registered, making this the world’s largest mathematics gathering.  Nash received a JMM 2024 Pi Mu Epsilon (PME) Speaker Award for his presentation there.  This award recognizes outstanding student speakers in the PME Paper Sessions.

Nash plans to become a professor one day.  He is excited to continue researching and is also interested in mentoring the next generation of scientists and researchers.  He’ll take the first step toward becoming a professor this fall when he begins a graduate program in Applied Mathematics.

Nash would advise any undergraduate who wants to get involved in research to start by sending emails.  He suggests finding a professor who is doing cool work, reading a few of their papers, and then emailing them to ask about it.  From there, he says, see if you can meet up to talk about what they’ve been working on.

It’s worked for him, and it should work for you!  You might even end up checking something off your bucket list . . . like traveling to the Arctic ice cap.

by Angie Gardiner

Originally appeared at math.utah.edu

 

 

Ken Golden, Op-ed

Space Race? we can win the ‘Earth Race’ too

Alta Ski Resort, just outside of Salt Lake City, received a whopping 903 inches of snow last winter, delighting skiers with continuous fresh powder. But Utah’s snowpack and precipitation patterns are of interest not just to ski resorts; they are of critical importance to the state’s drinking water, agriculture, industry and the health of the Great Salt Lake.

Was this the start of a period of abundant precipitation for the state or an aberration — a last gasp before the climate here settles into a drier equilibrium?

There is a propensity on both sides of the political aisle to become entrenched in partisan policy approaches, making it difficult to navigate our way through an uncertain and rapidly changing environment. However, I see these challenges as an opportunity to spearhead new technologies, innovations and policies that balance current economics and investments with our shifting circumstances. What might seem to be a setback must instead be viewed as a launching pad for our next giant leap forward.

The last time the U.S. was presented with an opportunity on this scale, which also arose from a threat to our way of life and to national security, was the Space Race of the 1960s. Scientific and technological advances were ignited by the challenges that humans faced when we first set our sights on landing on the moon. Our government, partnering with federal agencies and academia, demonstrated its resolve to defeat the Soviet Union in a race to the lunar surface. This initiative triggered investment across our economy, in universities and in technological infrastructure, spawning new markets and industries, creating jobs and sparking revolutionary advances in STEM fields and beyond. American science was viewed with pride at home and abroad.

In this new “Earth Race,” we have an opportunity for incredible innovation and progress. We can work collaboratively to promote science-based approaches while ensuring that current economic engines have the resources to adapt to new realities. However, if we fail to act, we will be left behind as other countries take the lead in creating a sustainable and economically vibrant future.

We cannot afford not to use the full power of American ingenuity, entrepreneurship and the world’s best university system if we are to seize the historic moment that we are in to fuel potent change. By many metrics we are already losing this race, as well as the spoils that will go to the leader of the global-scale technological transition that is just getting started.

China, for example, has doubled funding for higher education and, by 2025, will be producing around 80,000 STEM Ph.D.s per year — twice as many as the U.S.

China’s spending on research and development has jumped to 2.56 percent of GDP, though some of that funding is coming from businesses; still, that is more than triple the U.S. federal investment of 0.7 percent, which has been in decline for over a decade. Furthermore, China recently overtook the U.S. in science and engineering publications, and in 2022 ranked No. 1 in contributions to the prestigious Nature group of science journals, surpassing us for the first time.

We can’t risk lagging behind for much longer. Let’s set the not-so-lofty goal of catching up over the next eight years to our principal global rival by tripling federal R&D investment in math, science and engineering, and doubling our STEM Ph.D.s.

Significantly increased funding and attention to STEM research and education can be the catalyst for the U.S. to win the Earth Race, as well as spawn breakthroughs on other critical fronts. It will accelerate advances important not only for climate solutions but to the future of our national economy and defense posture, in fields such as quantum computing, AI, data science, medicine, optimization, advanced materials, photonics and energy storage.

We’re all in the same boat: planet Earth! The sheer complexity, scope and highly interdisciplinary nature of climate issues necessitate that we work together, across ideological, academic, intellectual and political lines, to achieve big goals that will benefit all of us. These problems are solvable. We have the talent, the ingenuity and the motivation to succeed. Increased investment in STEM, with our sights set on winning the Earth Race, will jumpstart our economy through the development of new solutions and will pay substantial dividends as we sail forward.

Let us set the compass toward our highest aspirations: “through adversity to the stars.”

By Kenneth M. Golden

 

 

 

Kenneth M. Golden is a distinguished professor of mathematics and adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Utah.  This opinion piece originally appeared January 12, 2024 in The Hill, Washington D.C.

Ingredients for Data Science

Ingredients for Data Science

 

Data science is crucial — but can be faced with plenty of difficulties.

Posted November 16, 2023

“Sometimes [data science] can feel like alchemy,” Anna Little, Assistant Professor of Mathematics states. “Like we’re just stirring this big pile of math until the results look right.” Little was the featured speaker at the College of Science's Science at Breakfast speaker series on November 2 at the Natural History Museum of Utah. She titled her remarks Challenges of the Modern Data Era.

There are three key challenges today within the field of data science: Determining effective knowledge transfer, how to accomplish reliable data visualization and achieving physically meaningful machine learning.  All are issues that Anna Little’s research focuses on solving.

Effective knowledge transfer centers on what it means for two tasks to be similar. With so many different applications, it becomes difficult to accurately predict. “An alternative to assessing similarity is to think about distances depending on conditions in some underlying network, not just the individual points,” Little said, "investigating novel ways of measuring distance.”

Reliable data visualization deals with the patterns that we see when looking at data. Modern data tends to have a very large number of features, which makes it difficult to visualize the data as well as analyze it. Through a process called dimension reduction, one can take a large table and minimize it into a smaller table that’s easier to analyze. However, dimension reduction can also lead to patterns going undetected, or create false patterns, as well as the disappearance of outliers. Little’s research looks into the “best of both worlds” by using linear algorithms with better note properties for the data.

For the last challenge, Little reported that machine learning is currently unreliable when it comes to data science. “AI responses aren’t stable,” Little said. “We want a small change in input to lead to a small change in output, but it often leads to a big change in output, and that makes mathematicians very uncomfortable.” Machine learning has good performance, but it’s difficult for data scientists to understand why or how it comes up with a certain conclusion.

It’s important to design features of machine learning with the characteristics that one wants, and Little focuses on utilizing translation in variant features. This means the features all compute the same, regardless of whether the data has shifted in terms of location or interference.

Anna Little was born in Alabama, but spent a majority of her childhood in Europe. She received a bachelor’s in mathematics from Samford University before completing a PhD in mathematics at Duke University before arriving at the U in 2021. 

By CJ Siebeneck

Science @ Breakfast is a lecture series that features U faculty sharing their latest, cutting-edge research - while enjoying a meal. If you would like to be invited to our next Science @ Breakfast, please consider a donation to the College of Science at https://science.utah.edu/giving.