Mathematics Department - Spring 2001 Newsletter

Spring 2001 Newsletter

Message from the Department Chair
Faculty Prizes and Honors
New Faculty this Year
Faculty Promotions
New Faculty for Fall 2001
The Rutgers VIGRE program
Lewis and D'Atri lectures
Undergraduate Program News
Graduate Program News
Pizza Seminar News
Alumni News


A great deal has happened in this large and active department since Richard Falk became Acting Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in June, 2000 and I replaced him as acting Department Chair. This newsletter describes some of the honors and awards to our faculty, the new faculty this year, faculty promotions, the faculty who will join us in September 2001, the retirements this year, and the lecturers and topics of our memorial lecture series. There is also news about the graduate and undergraduate programs.

The department hosted a large number of seminars and colloquia and many distinguished visitors this year. In October Maxim Kontsevich gave a series of four lectures on "Non-Archimedian Geometry and Mirrors". In February there was a Conference on "Model Theory and Descriptive Set Theory" organized by Gregory Cherlin, Simon Thomas, and Saharon Shelah. This conference was made possible by a generous gift from alumnus Mark Gordon and additional support from MAMLS.

The status of our department as one of the top mathematical research departments in the USA is underscored by the level of research grant support. For the fiscal year 2001 faculty members obtained more than two million dollars in new grant awards. Overall, the current grant level in the department is over seven and a half million dollars.

One of my goals as chair this year was to enlist a larger number of faculty to help with administrative work in the department. I want to thank my colleagues for their cooperation in helping me to achieve this. In particular, I want to thank Sagun Chanillo (and his collaborator Gregory Cherlin) for taking the job of Director for New Faculty Appointments, Jim Lepowsky (and collaborator Xiaochun Rong) for taking on the new job of Director of Professional Development of Graduate Students, and Mike Saks (and collaborator Vladimir Retakh) for taking on the new job of Director of the Undergraduate Major Program. I also want to thank Dan Ocone for taking on the enormous job of Vice-Chair for the Undergraduate Program, and Stephen Greenfield for coming back as Vice-Chair for the Graduate Program (starting in January, 2001), following Peter Landweber's term in this vital position.

A broad spectrum of information about the Department, both current and from past years, is available on the Mathematics Department web site. In particular, honors awarded to faculty in previous years may be found on the faculty honors page and honors received by undergraduate and graduate students may be found on the Mathematics Department prizes and awards page.




Joel Lebowitz

Dr. Joel Lebowitz, the George William Hill Professor of Mathematics and Physics, received the Graduate Teaching Award by the Rutgers Graduate School-New Brunswick on April 25, 2001. Although Joel's scholarly excellence and humanitarian qualities have been recognized previously by Rutgers (see the Spring 2000 Newsletter), this award specifically honors his achievement as an instructor and mentor on the graduate and postdoctoral level.

Joel's remarkable abilities have led to great success as a teacher on the graduate level: his work as a classroom instructor, as a mentor of graduate students and postdocs, and as the creator of a remarkable worldwide intellectual community in mathematical physics and statistical mechanics directly benefits all students and scholars in these fields at Rutgers. Joel has had 33 successful doctoral students and a large number of postdoctoral associates. His nomination for this award was supported by e-mail from many individuals who wrote of his enthusiastic and effective personal interest in their careers.

Joel runs a weekly mathematical physics seminar which meets twice on Thursdays. Presentations at the seminar are rarely straightforward lectures. There's a great deal of interaction and a remarkably relaxed learning atmosphere. He also organizes statistical mechanics meetings twice a year, bringing hundreds of students and researchers to Rutgers. Each meeting features 30 to 40 presentations and various panels. Papers are exchanged, jobs are negotiated -- the meetings are wonderful scholarly occasions and invaluable opportunities for his students and coworkers. Joel Lebowitz has been for years one of the great educators of the Rutgers mathematics and physics communities.


Saharon Shelah

Professor Saharon Shelah, of Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Rutgers University, won the 2001 Wolf Foundation Prize (jointly with V.I. Arnold) for his many fundamental contributions to mathematical logic and set theory, and their applications within other parts of mathematics. Professor Shelah also won the János Bolyai International Mathematical Prize of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which consists of a medal and an award of $25,000. The award was presented on November 4, 2000 in a ceremony in Budapest, Hungary. This award was established in 1903 by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in honor of János Bolyai, co-discoverer of non-Euclidean geometry, and was presented to H. Poincaré in 1905 and to D. Hilbert in 1910, after which various historical events, beginning with the first World War, forced its interruption. The Academy has decided to renew the award, and Professor Shelah is the first recipient in modern times. In keeping with the original plan, the prize will be awarded every five years to the author of the best mathematical monograph containing original research which has been published in the previous ten years.

In his 700-plus papers and several books Professor Shelah has had an unparalleled influence on modern set theory and model theory. His solutions to deep and longstanding problems and his independence techniques forever changed the landscape of set theory; this is even more true in model theory where his concepts and methods have completely revolutionized the area. He also solved a number of famous problems arising in other branches of mathematics, such as algebra, combinatorics, and topology.


Eduardo Sontag

Professor Eduardo Sontag has been named the winner of the 2001 W.T. and Idalia Reid Prize in Applied Mathematics, awarded by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. The prize consists of $10,000 and an engraved medal. These will be presented at the SIAM Annual Meeting in San Diego, July 9-13, 2001, where Professor Sontag will also give a plenary address.

This prize is given annually for research in, or other contributions to, the broadly defined areas of differential equations and control theory. The 2001 Reid Prize selection committee members were John A. Burns (chair), Ruth F. Curtain, James G. Glimm, John Guckenheimer, and Arthur J. Krener. They cited Professor Sontag's deep and important scientific contributions to nonlinear control theory.

More Faculty Honors



Associate Professors

A. Shadi Tahvildar-Zadeh, who specializes in nonlinear wave propagation with applications to general relativity and fluid dynamics, joined the department as a tenured Associate Professor. He received a B.S. from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran (1985), and a Ph.D. from the Courant Institute, New York University (1991). After a year at the Institute for Advanced Study and two years at the University of Michigan, he was an Assistant Professor at Princeton University for six years. He won a Sloan Foundation Fellowship in 1997.

Assistant Professors

Ivan Blank, who received a B.A. from Princeton (1993) and a Ph.D. from the Courant Institute, New York University (2000), with the last part of his graduate work carried out at the University of Texas, Austin, joined the department as a Hill Assistant Professor. He studies the geometric properties of so-called free boundaries, such as the ice-water boundary created when water is freezing. He won a "Liftoff" fellowship from the Clay Mathematics Institute to support his research during the summer of 2000.

Yves Capdeboscq, who received a graduate engineering degree from the École Centrale, Paris (1995), a Diploma in Advanced Study in Mathematics from Cambridge University (1995), and a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics at the University of Paris VI (1999), joined the department as a Hill Assistant Professor. He studies diffusion equations with applications to numerical computations in nuclear reactors. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers and at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley during the 1999-2000 academic year.

W. Ethan Duckworth, who received a B.A. from Rice University (1993), and Ph.D. from the University of Oregon (2000), joined the department as a Hill Assistant Professor. He studies algebraic transformation groups, finite simple groups and geometry.

Matthew Leingang, who received a B.A. from the University of Chicago (1995), and a Ph.D. from Harvard University (2000), joined the department as a VIGRE Assistant Professor. He studies symplectic geometry, moment maps, and symmetry groups, with applications to the topological aspects of quantum physics.

Amelia Taylor, who received a B.S. from St. Olaf College (1994), an M.S. from Purdue University (1997) and a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas (2000), joined the department as a VIGRE Assistant Professor. Her research specialty is commutative algebra, symbolic computational methods, and Groebner basis theory. She won a "Liftoff" fellowship from the Clay Mathematics Institute to support her research during the summer of 2000.

Machiel Van Frankenhuysen, who received a master's degree in mathematics (1990) and a Ph.D. (1995) from the Catholic University of Nijmegen, joined the department as Assistant Professor. His current research relates fractal geometry and number theory. He held a Marie-Curie fellowship at the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (1996-1998), and was a visiting assistant professor at University of California, Riverside (1998-2000).



Michael Saks was promoted to the rank of Professor II

Stephen Greenfield was promoted to the rank of Professor I.

Michael Kiessling was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure.

We congratulate these colleagues for their outstanding achievements that led to these promotions.




Doron Zeilberger will join the department as a Board of Governor's Professor of Mathematics, coming to Rutgers from Temple University. A winner of the AMS Steele Prize in 1998, he is renowned for his research in algebraic and enumerative combinatorics and also his explorations in "experimental mathematics" (with his "coauthor" Salosh B. Ekhad, who is a computer).

Associate Professors

Paul Feehan will join the department as a tenured Associate Professor, coming to Rutgers from Ohio State University and the University of Dublin, Ireland. His research is in partial differential equations, especially gauge theories and applications to the topology of four-manifolds.

Assistant Professors

Lisa Carbone will join the department as a tenure-track Assistant Professor, coming to Rutgers from Harvard University where she has been a Benjamin Pierce Assistant Professor since 1997. Her specialties are group actions on trees, tree lattices, and Kac-Moody groups.

Stephen Miller will join the department as a tenure-track Assistant Professor, coming to Rutgers from Yale University where he has been an Assistant Professor since 1997. His specialties are number theory, automorphic forms, and L-functions

Shawn Robinson will join the department as a VIGRE Assistant Professor, coming to Rutgers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he just finished his Ph.D. thesis in algebraic geometry (cohomology and K-theory of flag varieties) under Shrawan Kumar.

Inna Korchagina will join the department as an Assistant Professor, coming to Rutgers from Ohio State University, having recently completed her Ph.D. research on finite simple groups under the direction of Ron Solomon.


Yavor Markov will join the department as an Instructor/Instructional Technology Specialist and will be involved with the department's Instructional Technology Initiative (see WeBWorK). He just completed his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with a dissertation in Representation Theory of Lie Algebras and Quantum Groups directed by Alexander Varchenko.



Weinstein Tilla Weinstein retired as of January 1, 2001. A retirement party was held for her on May 1, 2001, and she will be moving soon to Reno, Nevada to be nearer to family.

Tilla, who obtained her Ph.D. from New York University in 1959, came to Rutgers as the chair of the Douglass College Mathematics Department in 1970 after being on the faculties of UCLA, MIT, and Boston College. She served as Douglass College math chair from 1970 to 1973, and again from 1978 to 1980. She held a National Science Foundation Visiting Professorship for Women in Science in 1983/84, and had visiting positions at the Courant Institute of NYU, University of California at Berkeley, MSRI at Berkeley, University of Maryland, and City University of New York.

Her mathematical research commenced under the guidance of Lipman Bers, and concerned Riemann surfaces and quasi-conformal maps. In recent years she turned her attention to Lorentz surfaces, publishing a monograph on this area in 1996 and supervising four Ph.D. theses between 1995 and 1998. Since she was also Director of the Mathematics Graduate Program in 1996/97, this was a remarkable achievement.

During her three decades at Rutgers, Tilla served on many department committees (including graduate admissions and new faculty search), university committees (for the faculty council, graduate school, Douglass College, and other units), and professional groups such as the Association for Women Mathematicians executive committee. All who worked with her appreciated her calm, clear-headed analysis of the issues and her personal touch. We shall miss her in the department.



The Mathematics Department is in the second year of a five year grant worth two and one-half million dollars through the National Science Foundation's VIGRE (Vertical InteGration of Research and Education) program. The Rutgers project, "Extending and Renewing the Education of Mathematicians", is changing the way that postdoctoral fellows and graduate students interact with faculty, undergraduates, and each other.

NSF staffers have repeatedly stated that "The core of VIGRE activity is graduate education". Our most significant change in graduate education has been the introduction of rotations, which are individual tutorials given to VIGRE-supported students during their first two years of graduate study. The rotations have been guided by 36 different faculty members, including two from Computer Science and one from Operations Research. The rotations have included pedagogical activity (participating in the creation of new or significantly modified courses) as well as more usual scholarly work. The efforts of VIGRE students in just their first years of graduate study have resulted in their co-authoring papers in three different areas of mathematics. Stephen Greenfield organized the VIGRE rotations during the past two years. In the coming academic year, Simon Thomas will take over as VIGRE Rotation Coordinator.

The VIGRE Seminar organized by Amy Cohen had an active and diverse year. The seminar served as a venue for presenting summaries of rotation activities. It additionally featured discussions about mathematics education and mathematics outside of math departments. Probably the best-attended seminar was a panel of chairs or former chairs of Math Departments at Columbia, Montclair State, and Swarthmore. They described what they expected of junior faculty and how their hiring processes worked. Other notable meetings included a discussion led by an NSF program officer (Joe Brennan) on how to identify and obtain NSF grant support, and a panel of journal editors who discussed how math papers get published. Several meetings were devoted to educational issues: Roger Howe of the Yale Mathematics Department presented information about TIMSS, a comparative study of pre-college mathematics achievement in various countries; Gilbert Strang of MIT discussed teaching linear algebra with an audience ranging from faculty members to undergraduates taking basic linear algebra; Gerald Goldin analyzed the evolution of ideas in mathematics education; Amy Stern talked about teaching mathematics in a middle school in Plainfield, New Jersey.

The VIGRE REU ("Research Experience for Undergraduates") directed by János Komlós continues this summer. Its activities are combined with efforts of DIMACS and DIMATIA. A total of 23 undergraduates are expected to participate this summer. Many of the students will work in groups guided by the combined efforts of faculty members and VIGRE postdocs and graduate students. Kia Dalili, a mathematics graduate student, will assist Professor Komlós in running the REU this summer.



The Department's two distinguished lecture series, offered in memory of two of our colleagues, were presented this Spring. The Lewis lectures, on the general theme of quantum field theory and topology, were given by Graeme Segal of Oxford University. His three lectures were devoted to the mathematical structure of quantum field theory, quantum field theory and K-theory, and quantum theory and representation theory. The D'Atri lectures, given by Brian White of Stanford University, were devoted to the geometry of soap films and equations of evolution for curves and surfaces.


Dan Ocone, Undergraduate Vice-Chair)

About 9,600 undergraduates took courses in the Math Department in Fall 2000, and about 7,600 undergraduates in Spring 2001. Handling the administration of this massive enrollment would not have been possible without the splendid assistance of Deputy Vice-Chair for Undergraduate Affairs Enriqueta R. Carrington and the constant support of Bill Irvine and staff members Diane Apadula, Carla Ortiz, and Joanna Hess.

Encouraging the early development of the talent of our undergraduates is an important activity of the Department. We have two programs devoted to such development in place: the REU ("Research Experience for Undergraduates") for development of research ability, and the Recitation Mentor Program for development of teaching ability.

The DIMACS/VIGRE REU is discussed elsewhere in this newsletter.

The Department currently employs sixty undergraduates, not necessarily majors in math, as peer mentors in calculus workshops. About a half dozen of these, seniors with very high grades and strong performances as peer mentors in previous semesters, work as Recitation Mentors, teaching their own recitation section of precalculus. These young teachers are gaining very valuable experience and it has been gratifying to see the increase in the number of academically strong students who are going into secondary school teaching. Details about the Peer Mentor program can be found on the Peer Mentor homepage. For information on Recitation Mentors, go to Jobs for Undergraduates from the department home page. It is a pleasure to thank Jerry Tunnell for his work as Peer Mentor Coordinator.

The department awards several undergraduate prizes each year. This year's winners were as follows: the David Martin Weiss Award for achievement in mathematics by a first-year student was won by Douglas Scheinberg; Jared Smollik won the Lawrence Corwin Prize for best performance on the prize exam by a sophomore; the Bogart Prize for general achievement as a math major went to See-Loon Ng. Daniel Wilckens won the Bradley Memorial Prize for best overall performance on the prize exam; he also received an honorable mention in the annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Exam, placing in the top 50 out of the 3000 undergraduate students in the United States and Canada who took the exam this year.

The Mathematics Department continues to refine and modernize its course offerings. The version of Math 250, Introduction to Linear Algebra, incorporating the use of computing with MATLAB, continues to be offered in 3 sections per semester. Thanks especially to Roe Goodman and VIGRE graduate student Michael Weingart for developing the original MATLAB experiments. More details may be found on the Math 250 web page.

Amy Cohen, Steve Greenfield, and Jean Taylor obtained funding from the Rutgers Instructional Technology Initiative to begin web support for Math 135, our largest single course (total annual enrollment: approximately 3,000 students). A package called WeBWorK, developed at the University of Rochester, was chosen as the basis for our efforts. WeBWorK is open-source and free. Difficulties occurred due to differences in computer environments and to scaling (the largest course using WeBWorK at Rochester involved 100 students!). Jean Taylor (coordinator of Math 135), David Galvin (the "head TA" for 135 this year), Risa Hynes (the Math Department's computer systems administrator), and David Roberts (part-time computer specialist) worked hard to make this effort successful. WeBWorK should be available next year on a routine, continuing basis to Math 135 students, with assistance from Yavor Markov, a new Instructor/Instructional Technology Specialist joining the department. We expect it will be a useful addition to the course.

New courses have been developed this year to replace our old modeling course, Math 338, and to reinvigorate the Biomath Major. Now, instead of Math 338, we shall have a Math 336, Differential Equations in Biology, a new Math 338, Discrete and Probabilistic Models in Biology, and a Math 339, Mathematical Methods in Social Sciences (more details). We plan to offer a section of 336 in Fall 2001, as well as one section of 336 and one of 338 in Spring 2002. Eduardo Sontag has played a major role in this development (see the links he has set up to the very active field of Mathematical Biology).

The honors section of Math 103, Topics in Mathematics for the Liberal Arts, organized around the theme of cryptography, has become an established honors offering for non-majors. Steve Greenfield designed it originally with grant support from the NSF, and he left it in shape to be taken up by other faculty. This year VIGRE postdoc Jon Hanke ran the course and reports success.

Continuing on the currently hot topic of cryptography, we thank Professor Shirlei Serconek (Math Ph.D., Rutgers, 1980), visiting from the Institute of Mathematics and Statistics of the Federal University of Goiás (IME-UFG) in Brazil, for developing and teaching Math 395-Mathematics of Cryptography this spring. Courses like this give our undergraduates the opportunity to see the abstractions they worked so hard to understand in their Number Theory and Linear Algebra courses applied to exciting technological issues.

After a spirited debate, the department voted in a prerequisite change to prepare our students for the upper level courses with theoretical content. Namely, the department decided to add the prerequisite "Math 300 or permission of the department" to the courses Math 311, 350, 361, 435, 441, and 461. Math 300, of course, is "Introduction to Math Reasoning". The idea is to insure that students have a competence level in reasoning sufficient to make headway in the upper level courses. At least that is what we hope!


Stephen Greenfield, Graduate Director)

Ten students earned Ph.D.'s this year. They are (with advisors parenthesized):

Bernardo Ábrego (József Beck)

Sylvia Fernández (József Beck)

Maurice Hasson (Richard Gundy)

Brian Ingalls (Eduardo Sontag)

Antun Milas (James Lepowsky)

Clifford Smyth (Michael Saks)

Darko Volkov (Michael Vogelius)

Steven Warner (Simon Thomas)

Lei Zhang (YanYan Li)

Yi Zhao (Endre Szemerédi)

These students have already written a number of interesting and important research papers and have successfully taught a wide variety of courses. It is wonderful to have worked with them.

Special Mathematics Department Chair Teaching Awards were given to Bernardo Ábrego, Sylvia Fernández, Clifford Smyth, and Amy Stern. Mr. Smyth also won a Dean's Award for Excellence in Research from the Graduate School. He has worked on combinatorial probability with applications to computational complexity and on problems in geometry. Ms. Stern received an FAS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education, commemorating her varied and successful teaching here. This year she was a Graduate Fellow in the Science and Mathematics Educational Partnerships program, and taught in the Hubbard Middle School in Plainfield one day a week. She introduced her middle school students to new topics in discrete mathematics outside the standard curriculum. In the coming year, Klay Kruczek will hold a similar fellowship. Louis Dupaigne was awarded a Bevier Fellowship by the Graduate School to support his work next year. Mr. Dupaigne had a French government award for his support during the spring while working under the supervision of Haim Brezis.

Maurice M. Weill and Adrienne R. Weill have given a generous endowment to the Rutgers Department of Mathematics. Income from their gift has begun to be received and will be used this summer to support the scholarly travel plans of Juan Davila, Carlo Mazza, and Yuka Umemoto Taylor. We will use these funds to further support graduate student activities next year.

Meijun Zhu received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1996 under the direction of Yanyan Li. He is now a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma, and was recently designated as one of four winners of the AMS Centennial Fellowships for 2001-2002.

We currently anticipate 14 new graduate students arriving in the fall. But enrollment nationally in graduate programs in the mathematical sciences has declined more than 20% over the last decade. Competition for the best graduate students is intense. Please tell appropriate students about our program and suggest that they apply. Also, please tell us about these students so we can approach them. With resources from VIGRE and the Graduate School, we are able to offer competitive stipends to support graduate students in a program of high quality with low attrition.

The Department has an ongoing Summer Internship program for our graduate students. The objectives are (a) to expose them to industry and government career alternatives, and (b) to familiarize those students opting for traditional academic careers with "real life" applications of mathematics.

Researchers from several NJ industrial labs, including Lucent, AT&T, NEC, RW Johnson Pharmaceuticals, Telecordia, Mitre, Merck, and others, as well as from national labs such as Sandia, NIST, and Los Alamos, expressed great interest in considering our graduate students as interns, and offered descriptions of specific projects and basic prerequisites.

We invite readers of this newsletter who may be willing to host interns at their institutions or who have information leading to possible internship opportunities to contact Eduardo Sontag (, our internship coordinator.

Brenda Skinner

The Graduate Program has a new administrative assistant, Ms. Brenda E. Skinner ( This job was previously held for several years by Bil Gonzalez, who has moved on to another position at the university. Ms. Skinner has now been through the spring semester, and has gotten acquainted with the unusual and wonderful people who apply to the graduate program. Ms. Skinner worked previously for Novartis, where she was a customer service representative and managed wholesale accounts. She handles the Graduate Program's e-mail, telephone contacts, and correspondence, and is learning answers to more questions about the program every day. She helps everyone connected with the program.

Further news relevant to the Graduate Program is reported in the section about VIGRE.


PIZZA SEMINAR NEWS (Aaron Lauve, Curator)

The Pizza Seminar is a weekly talk given by a graduate student to an audience of graduate students. The talks are informal and give students the opportunity to practice the important art of communicating mathematical ideas before a nonjudgemental audience.

A wide variety of topics are covered. Last semester, three of the speakers introduced us to their research and outlined their recent results; five more provided overviews of the basic ideas in their areas of interest, while the remaining three speakers chose to present items of recreational interest that would not normally be seen in classes.

The weekly seminar is occasionally replaced by a Faculty Research Glimpse: a meeting during which three or four faculty members speak about their current research interests. The Faculty Research Glimpses provide graduate students with an opportunity to hear first-hand what problems are currently being thought about here at Rutgers. Four of these "Faculty Research Glimpses" were given this year: two in the Fall, and two in the Spring. For more information go to Pizza Seminar.



The Mathematics Department is very interested in hearing from its alumni/alumnae from either the undergraduate or graduate program, about where they are and what they are doing. One aim is to set up a Department website that would facilitate contacts among former graduates and serve as a source of contacts for our current graduates. We would be especially interested to know if you are employed in a company that hires mathematics graduates at any level, since we are seeking summer internship opportunities for our students and also occasionally look for individuals willing to come to campus to speak about job opportunities in industry for mathematics majors. Please let us know if you would be willing to participate in such activities.

If possible, responses should be sent by email to:

Current Address:
Job Title and Company:
Home Phone:
Business Phone:
Email address:
Web page url:
News item:

If you do not have access to email, please FAX the information to 732-445-5530 (attention: Alumni Committee) or mail the information to:

Alumni Committee
Department of Mathematics - Hill Center
Rutgers, The State University Of New Jersey
110 Frelinghuysen Rd
Piscataway, NJ 08854-8019

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