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2017-2018 Newsletter

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From the Chair

Paul Goerss, Department Chair

The department here at Northwestern University is a rich and diverse community, working together to study and teach mathematics. All of us contribute, each in his or her own way, to the overall project. We are a welcoming group, with an incredibly rich slate of visitors, special lectures, and any number of conferences. It is also an ever-changing and ever-renewing community. One of the great benefits to being Chair of the department is that I get to meet and get to know all these remarkable people. Here’s some news about some of them.

Our research faculty had a remarkable year, recognized in many ways. Aaron Naber was awarded a 2018 Breakthrough Prize, one of the “Oscars of Science,” celebrating top achievements in physics, life sciences and mathematics. These prizes are sponsored by Silicon Valley elites, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergey Brin. The Summer of 2018 brings us the International Congress of Mathematicians in Rio de Janeiro; this quadrennial event includes talks highlighting the best work of the past four years, and this year Northwestern mathematicians Laura DeMarco, Mihnea Popa, and Emmy Murphy will all give lectures. Last, but by no means least, both Emmy Murphy and John Francis have been promoted to Associate Professors with tenure, a real mark of their contributions to the department, the University, and the profession.

Great research mathematicians visit us all the time, both in our weekly seminars and in more exceptional events. Every two years Northwestern awards the Nemmers Prize in math, a prestigious honor given for path-breaking mathematics. This spring, the 2016 winner, János Kollár from Princeton is in residence, and we also announced the 2018 winner, Assaf Naor, also from Princeton. Professor Naor works in analysis and geometry. We also have two prestigious lecture series each year: Maciej Zworski from Berkeley was the Bellow lecturer and Ulrike Tillmann of Oxford University was the Pinsky lecturer.

Lectures don’t need to be entirely about research. In the fall we had the third GROW conference designed to introduce undergraduate women to life as a graduate student. This conference has emerged as a permanent feature of the mathematics year, but we never intended it to be permanently at Northwestern. Next year it will move to the University of Michigan. This coming summer there is also a training conference for graduate students in Probability, sponsored our NSF Research Training Grant.

Another extremely important group for us is the postdocs, who are typically here for three years right after they earn their Ph.D. There are about a dozen Boas Assistant Professors—the research postdocs—and perhaps three or four Postdoctoral Lecturers, whose primary mission is teaching. They are vital members of the department, but by the very nature of these positions, these mathematicians are with us for only a few years. We are always a little sad to see them go, but we take delight in their success: for example, Qiang Zeng, Martha Precup, and Xin Jin will be going to tenure-track research positions, and Silas Johnson will leave us for a permanent teaching-track position.

Teaching is equally part of the profession, and we have a very strong group of Professors of Instruction, greatly enhancing our undergraduate program. Santiago Cañez and Eugene Kushnirsky were both promoted to Associate Professor of Instruction this spring. Aaron Peterson has now fully taken over as Calculus Director next fall and is leading a two-year project to revisit and thoroughly revise our core curriculum. John Alongi has replaced the newly retired and sorely missed Mike Stein as our Director of Undergraduate Studies. Many of you surely met John as an instructor or as Director of MENU, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me that he is just the person for this important leadership position.

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