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New US News and World Report’s 2024 “Best Graduate Schools” UNC Mathematics ranking released

May 5, 2023

New US News and World Report’s 2024 “Best Graduate Schools” UNC Mathematics ranking released

UNC Mathematics Ranking Released

In U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 “Best Graduate Schools” list, 16 of Carolina’s programs increased their rankings.

Mathematics is overall tied for 30th, while our Applied Math program holds 12th place.
The original article can be read here.

Sáenz awarded Sloan Fellowship

March 17, 2023

Sáenz awarded Sloan Fellowship

Dr. Saenz Awarded Sloan Fellowship

February 15, 2023

Pedro Sáenz, faculty member in the Department of Mathematics, has been awarded a 2023 Sloan Research Fellowship, among the most prestigious awards given to early-career scientists.

The announcement was made by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation on Feb. 15. A total of 126 early-career researchers were awarded the fellowships, given to extraordinary U.S. and Canadian scientists whose creativity, innovation and research accomplishments make them stand out as the next generation of leaders. The new fellows, who were nominated by their peers, are drawn from a diverse range of 54 institutions across seven academic fields. Winners receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship which can be used to advance their research.

“Sloan Research Fellows are shining examples of innovative and impactful research,” said Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “We are thrilled to support their groundbreaking work.”

Sáenz’s research is interdisciplinary, lying at the intersection of mathematics and fundamental physics. His work focuses on the mathematical description of nonlinear fluid processes to reveal surprising connections between classical mechanics, which describes the familiar behavior of large objects, and quantum mechanics, which describes the strange behavior of tiny particles such as electrons. His recent research has demonstrated that oil droplets walking on the surface of a vibrating liquid may behave like sub-atomic particles in a number of settings, revealing particle-wave dual effects previously thought exclusive to the quantum world.

“In our lab, we combine theory, simulations and experiments to better understand fundamental problems in physics and engineering,” Sáenz said. “We work to demonstrate that odd behaviors displayed by electrons and other atomic-sized particles can be recreated with larger particles visible to the human eye that move guided by the waves they excite.”

Sáenz earned a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh. He pursued postdoctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he taught applied mathematics. He joined the UNC faculty in 2019. Sáenz is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Early Career Development Award and recently won the American Physical Society’s Van Dyke Gallery of Fluid Motion Award.

Awarded annually since 1955, a Sloan Fellowship is among the most coveted awards given to young researchers in part because many past fellows have gone on to great achievements in science. Fifty-six fellows have received a Nobel Prize in their respective field. Potential fellows are nominated by their peers and then selected by an independent panel of senior scholars.

Learn more about the 2023 Sloan Fellows.

This article originally appeared here.

Run, Faraday, Run

December 13, 2022

Run, Faraday, Run

Run, Faraday, Run

The APS Division of Fluid Dynamics has announced the 2022 winners of its annual Gallery of Fluid Motion video and poster contest. UNC Mathematics is extremely proud that this year’s first place prize was given to James Guan and his team for their work with Faraday waves.

This is an excerpt. The full article was published on November 28, 2022, and can be accessed here.

Faraday Waves Get Moving

It’s one of those classic physics classroom demonstrations: water in a shallow vessel placed on top of a speaker producing a loud tone generates ripples on the liquid surface. These “Faraday waves” can form a range of patterns that are normally stationary, but the ripples will move around chaotically when the sound amplitude is large. Pedro Sáenz of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and postdoctoral researcher Jian Hui Guan wondered if this chaotic motion could be converted to coherent motion by restricting the space where the waves move. The researchers set up the liquid in a circular channel and were thrilled to see that the waves moved around the loop in an orderly way. The desired behavior appeared on the first try. “This is something that will happen once in my life,” Sáenz jokes.

The video from Sáenz, Guan, and their colleagues, shows that this coherent motion can proceed either clockwise or counterclockwise by random chance, but it can also be forced in one direction by adding a sort of staircase pattern (“ratchet”) to the walls of the channel. The researchers show that this steady motion of surface waves can also be guided through a more complicated channel network and can potentially be arranged to power a pump that could move another fluid through a separate channel. They titled the video Run, Faraday, Run to playfully refer to a famous line, “Run, Forrest, run,” from the movie Forrest.

Nepal Round Three

October 27, 2022

Nepal Round Three

Nepal Round Three

An interdisciplinary team made its third trip to Nepal to study the effects of climate change on the pristine Gokyo Lakes. Once again the researchers faced daunting challenges, logged some major successes and learned new lessons about adaptability, flexibility and resilience when conducting fieldwork in challenging environments.
Mountains surround a calm lake with a small town.
A team of Carolina researchers made a third trip to Nepal to study the impact of climate change on the high-altitude Gokyo lakes.

What do you do when a gastrointestinal illness takes out half of your research team that traveled nearly 8,000 miles to Nepal to study the effects of climate change on Buddhist holy lakes?

You press on.

An interdisciplinary group of Carolina researchers first journeyed to Mount Everest’s Khumbu region in summer 2018, returned in fall 2019 and — after COVID delayed the original return plans — made the trek again to the Gokyo Lakes in summer 2022.

The team consists of mathematicians Rich McLaughlin and Roberto Camassa, marine scientists Harvey Seim and Emily Eidam and religious studies scholar Lauren Leve.

Leve was not able to make the trek to the lakes this year due to other research she was conducting in Nepal, but she laid important groundwork for the team’s journey by securing needed paperwork and permits. She has provided ongoing counsel and support on this high-altitude region that is sacred to the Buddhist tradition. KEEP READING HERE



This article was originally published here By Kim Weaver Spurr, photos by Rich McLaughlin and Roberto Camassa.

Read about the researchers’ first trip to Nepal in summer 2018 and their return trip in fall 2019.


2022 Mathematics Faculty Awards

September 19, 2022

2022 Mathematics Faculty Awards

2022 Mathematics Faculty Awards

2022 Mathematics Faculty Awards: Goodman-Peterson Teaching Award Recipients for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Congratulations to Dr. Jason Metcalfe (Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor) and Dr. Richárd Rimányi (Bowman and Gordan Gray Distinguished Term Professor), who are the recipients of the 2022 Goodman-Peterson Teaching Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Education! The awards are intended to highlight the accomplishments of Mathematics Department Instructors who have made a great contribution to undergraduate instruction over the last two years.

Jason Metcalfe is a 2003 Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and joined the faculty at UNC in 2007 following postdoctoral positions at Georgia Tech and the University of California – Berkeley. His research focuses on the analysis of partial differential equations. He was a previous recipient of this award in 2017. His teaching and mentoring have subsequently been recognized with the 2018 Board of Governors’ Award for Excellence in Teaching from the UNC system, the 2019 Faculty Award for Excellence in Doctoral Mentoring from the Graduate School at UNC, and a Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professorship.

Personal Note from Professor Metcalfe: I’m especially honored that this award is named after Sue Goodman and Karl Petersen. And with that comes a great deal of responsibility. They were fantastic colleagues who were impactful through their teaching and mentoring. It is very proper that our department’s teaching award brings annual recognition to their careers. I am also humbled and honored to be receiving this award with Richárd Rimányi, for whom I have the absolute deepest respect as a colleague, as a researcher, as a friend, and as a teacher.

Richárd Rimányi received his B.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees at the Eotvos University Budapest. He moved to the US in 2001 and joined UNC in 2003. Since then, he has taught a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate classes, namely over 20 different courses, at our department. His research focuses on geometry and its relations to singularities, representation theory, quantum integrable systems and string theory.

Congratulations Richard and Jason!

Roberto Camassa Awarded SIAM’s 2022 Kruskal Prize

March 10, 2022

Roberto Camassa Awarded SIAM’s 2022 Kruskal Prize

Camassa Awarded Kruskal Prize

March 10, 2022

Congratulations to Roberto Camassa, Kenan Professor of Mathematics in the College of Arts & Sciences, for earning the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics’ Kruskal Prize for his work to advance the understanding of nonlinear wave evolution.

Roberto Camassa will deliver the Kruskal Prize Lecture at the bi-annual SIAM Nonlinear Waves and Coherent Structures meeting in Bremen, Germany this summer. He joins some absolute superstars in applied math with this. To date, Roberto is the sixth recipient, our own Chris Jones received the prize in 2016, so 1/3 of all awardees came from UNC for this international prize in applied mathematics. The SIAM Activity Group on Nonlinear Waves and Coherent Structures presents this award every two years to one individual for a notable body of mathematics and contributions in the field of nonlinear waves and coherent structures. Please extend congratulations to Roberto for this distinguished honor.

(Photo By Jeyhoun Allebaugh)

Linda Green Recipient of the Johnston Teaching Excellence Award

January 20, 2022

Linda Green Recipient of the Johnston Teaching Excellence Award

Green - Johnston Teaching Award

January 20, 2022

Congratulations to our very own, Linda Green, who was one of two recipients of the Johnston Teaching Excellence Award.

Carolina honored 25 faculty members and teaching assistants for their accomplishments with the 2022 University Teaching Awards.

Given annually, the awards acknowledge the University’s commitment to outstanding teaching and mentoring for graduate and undergraduate students. The Johnston Teaching awards were created in 1991 to recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching. The awards are funded by the James M. Johnston Scholarship Program. Click here to read more about Linda!

Congratulations, Linda!

UNC Math Alumni Career Panel Series

November 24, 2021

UNC Math Alumni Career Panel Series

Career Panel Series

November 24, 2021

The SIAM student chapter and GMA hosted a 3-day UNC Math Alumni Career Panel Series where graduate students of all stages in the program were invited to learn from the experiences of successful graduates in teaching positions, academic and government postdoctoral appointments, and industry jobs. Alumni shared advice on navigating career prospects as a graduate mathematics student and highlighted ways to be successful as a job applicant.

Update: April 4, 2022

The career panel hosted by UNC-CH graduate students made SIAM News! Click here to read the full article.

Ph.D. Students Bryn Barker and DJ Passey

November 5, 2021

Ph.D. Students Bryn Barker and DJ Passey

Dissertations And Diapers

November 8, 2021

Meet Bryn Barker and DJ Passey—married Ph.D. students in the Department of Mathematics who are parents to twin boys.

This interview with Bryn Barker and DJ Passey was featured in the November 2021 issue of UNC’s Campaign for Carolina.

Ph.D.s and parenthood

An around-the-clock endeavor with seemingly non-stop demands could describe either parenthood or the pursuit of a Ph.D. program—from dissertations to diapers, Department of Mathematics Ph.D. students and married couple Bryn Barker and DJ Passey have dual responsibilities that come with pursuing a graduate degree at one of the country’s top universities, all while parenting two-year-old twin boys.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Passey and Barker use Google Sheets, a web-based spreadsheet tool, to schedule everything from their toddlers’ naps to advisor meetings; Professors Boyce Griffith and Peter Mucha advise Barker and Passey, respectively. The pair describe the drumbeat of their day as “crazy intense.”

“We map out every hour of our days,” Barker said. “I’m super grateful for people being flexible with our schedules, because sometimes we can’t be available.”

Graduate education expands opportunities

The attention to detail and ability to plan helped Barker earn a five-year fellowship with The Graduate School’s Royster Society of Fellows, the premiere doctoral recruitment tool for top incoming graduate students.

The rigor of their graduate programs, paired with the challenges of parenting, is part of what graduate students—who often return to seek advanced degrees after years of work experience—may face. That’s why funding, Passey said, is incredibly important.

“Having these fellowships and support has been a huge help,” Barker said. “With the support, the extra burdens that often come with grad school have been reduced, and we’ve been able to find a great balance between prioritizing our research and making time for our kids.”

She said she appreciates the mix of graduate students she has met through the Royster Society, which offers interdisciplinary opportunities and the chance for graduate students to create lasting connections across all areas of campus. Those connections are a boon for mathematics graduate students who may be intensely focused on their areas of research.

“I got to talk to a good chunk of graduate students at a social event last year, and a lot of them had kids, too, or were from more nontraditional backgrounds. It’s great to see that at Carolina,” Barker said.

Shared passion for STEM

Barker has also received a Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship. She has spent time working for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Passey is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships Program (NSF GRFP) fellow who began work at Google’s research lab X development, with a focus on artificial intelligence as part of a residency program.

Having both studied math as undergraduate and master’s degree students at Brigham Young University, their studies have become so specialized that Passey and Barker are becoming experts in their own areas of mathematics.

“The brain is kind of like having 10 billion processors—or computer chips—all computing at the same time,” Passey said of his research. “To better understand the brain is to better understand what it means to be human.”

Simulation modeling, Barker’s area of expertise, is what brought the snowflakes to the screen in Disney’s Frozen, as math is behind the creation of animation and simulation tools. But it also can improve simulations in health care; Barker is currently working with the UNC School of Medicine McAlister Heart Institute to design more accurate models of the heart.

While Barker began math competitions at age five, her mother, also a mathematician, fostered a desire to support women who decide to pursue STEM-based studies in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. They plan to support their children in whatever they decide to pursue—mathematics, or otherwise.

“Both of us really believe in being yourself and following what you love and what you’re drawn to,” Passey said. “Bryn and I both believe in a world where we allow people to be themselves as much as possible…That’s something we both feel strongly about.”

Joys of Discovery and Creation

October 12, 2021

Joys of Discovery and Creation

Gillian Taylor, class of ’22, Chancellors’ Science Scholars, cohort 6, calls math an “exercise in personal creativity,” and battled imposter syndrome before finding the joy in research. She is a math major with a double-minor in computer science and religious studies, hailing from Concord, North Carolina.

Q: Where do you conduct your research?
A: I work with Dr. David Rose, a professor in the UNC Mathematics Department.

Q: What topics is that research group exploring?
A: The people in our group work on projects relating to subfields of math including but not necessarily limited to representation theory, category theory, and knot theory.

Q: What is your current research project?
A: I am currently collaborating on extending a certain method of construction for 3-manifold invariants to a specific type of web calculus. A web calculus can be thought of as a set of diagrams related to a mathematical category along with relations that can be used to do calculations with these diagrams.

Q: What was it like to get involved in research for the first time?
A: I was actually very nervous about getting involved in research, as I was under the impression that the only undergraduates that were able to succeed at math research were those who had started research-adjacent activities in high school, those that possessed a level of savant-ness inaccessible to 99.9% of the population, or even just the intersection of those two groups. It caused me to be quite anxious before my first few meetings with my advisor, fearing that at some point I would expose myself as some sort of imposter, someone who could perform well in the classroom but fell through when it came to more novel pursuits.

Q: How did you overcome those thoughts?
A: Despite the early anxieties, I soon realized that my fears were unfounded and my research work quickly became my favorite part of my week! Once you get to experience outside of the traditional classroom setting, you begin to see that math is just as much of an exercise in personal creativity as it is an exercise in the recitation of acquired knowledge, if not more so. Math exists and has the potential to exist in so many unexpected but still interconnected forms and coming up with ways for these forms to interact is a key component of new developments in the subject. Getting to do mathematics research has been an awesome opportunity to learn more about the vastness of the field while actually contributing to it, something that’s still really thrilling to think about, and I hope to continue to experience these joys of discovery and creation throughout the rest of my time in undergrad as well as in graduate school.