South Professors Receive AMS-Simons Research Grants
Posted on September 21, 2023 by Acacia Stanley
University of South Alabama’s Dr. Andrei Pavelescu and Dr. Arik Wilbert were selected to receive American Mathematical Society-Simons Research Enhancement Grants funded by the Simons Foundation. The mathematics professors are among the first group of 46 researchers in the U.S. to be named inaugural recipients of the grant, which includes $3,000 a year each for three years to support research-related activities.
“The Simons Foundation was cofounded by Jim Simons, an American mathematician, billionaire, hedge fund manager and philanthropist, who was successful in the business world,” said Pavelescu, an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. “This is a private grant administered by the American Mathematical Society, tailored for an institution like ours, where we do not have a mathematics doctoral program. This grant allows South to have a seat at the table for recognition of our research in mathematics.”
In addition, South will receive $300 in discretionary funds for the grantee’s department and $300 for administrative costs annually for three years.
Pavelescu will use the grant to expand research in the area of mathematics known as graph theory, a complex mathematical concept that involves the creation of graphical images and analysis of how different disciplines can use mathematics to predict possible outcomes before performing experiments.
“Graph theory is the main branch of discrete mathematics,” Pavelescu said. “Among many applications, my specific research aims to answer some theoretical mathematical questions for other disciplines and myself. Consider cells, they take shapes when they are graphed based on their mathematical components. We can analyze, mathematically, whether they can be separated without destroying the original molecule. With my research, I can become a blacksmith who creates tools for other researchers such as computer softwares that can determine these outcomes incredibly quickly and efficiently for millions of graphs at a time.”
Wilbert, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, plans to use the grant to expand research in the area of mathematics known as knot theory. His interests lie at the interface of representation theory, knot theory and algebraic geometry.
“Algebraic geometry studies the solutions of systems of polynomial equations in several variables,” Wilbert said. “In the proposed project, we exploit algebro-geometric methods to study knots. The study of knots has many applications in different fields such as biology, which deals with DNA-protein interaction and topoisomerase enzymes; medical applications like mechanisms of antibiotic resistance; chemistry-based applications, such molecular chirality; and physics, which deals with quantum entanglement and quantum computing.”
AMS-Simons grants are only afforded to universities that service primarily undergraduate programs and provide institutions with the freedom to allow high school, undergraduate and graduate students chances to participate in research that will take them on to higher educational programs.
Pavelescu has recently published research with students ranging from high school to the master’s level, including Johnathan Ridley Herron, a South graduate who is now working on his doctorate in mathematics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Ryan Odeneal, who is also a South graduate pursuing a doctorate in mathematics at the University of Nevada at Reno.
“We hope this will lead to bigger results, like a research experience for undergraduates grant that is due this month,” Pavelescu said. “A REU grant would allow us to offer, over the course of a summer, opportunities for students at South and abroad to come to our institution to work on relevant research. This would build up our program, and we could offer young mathematicians, undergraduates mostly, research opportunities that provide publishable results.”
In addition, Pavelescu and Wilbert intend to use portions of their grants for travel to conferences around the world with the hope of bringing recognition to the growing academic research developments at South.
“A successful research program in mathematics does not necessarily rely on expensive equipment,” Wilbert said. “It is the personal interaction with other mathematicians that propels our work.”
At the beginning of the three-year grant period, the funds from the AMS-Simons grant will also be used to bring in distinguished scholars to visit the University.
“These distinguished scholars will give a colloquium or seminar talk, interact with other faculty, and meet with our students,” Wilbert said. “This will help to enrich our mathematical community here at South. At later stages of the project, the grant will help cover costs associated with attending scientific meetings, conferences, and seminars to disseminate the research results. This grant will also increase the University of South Alabama's visibility as a place for cutting-edge research, further cementing its position as the Flagship of the Gulf Coast.”
Multiple faculty from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics have received Simons Foundation travel grants over the past 10 years, including Dr. Armin Straub, Dr. Scott Carter, Dr. Cornelius Pillen, Dr. Susan Williams, Dr. Dan Silver and Dr. Bin Wang.
"These grants provide financial support needed for faculty to travel to other institutions for research collaborations and to conferences to present their research outcomes," said Dr. Madhuri Mulekar, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. "We are grateful for this funding that helps our faculty with their research goals and provides opportunities for their research to reach wider audiences."
Mathematics and statistics lie at the foundation of modern technological society. Students who major in mathematics and statistics at South receive a broad liberal and mathematics education, combined with focused training in subfields, which may include analysis, approximation theory, representation theory, statistics or topology. Students can choose from concentrations in pure math, statistics, applied math and math education. South also offers a Master of Science in Mathematics. Faculty in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at South offer small class sizes and personalized attention.
Majoring in mathematics and statistics can lead to many STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers other than mathematician or statistician. Examples include actuary, biostatistician, data scientist, financial analyst and secondary or postsecondary educator. To learn more about the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, visit SouthAlabama.edu/MathStat.