Math faculty elected to American Mathematical Society Fellows

Two faculty members have been named to the inaugural class of American Mathematical Society Fellows in recognition of excellence in research and education.

Stanislaw Szarek, the Kerr Professor of mathematics, and Professor Elisabeth Werner are experts in convex geometry. He specializes in geometric functional analysis and its applications to high-dimensional phenomena, she in analysis and probability and applications to approximation theory. They also focus on mathematical physics and quantum information theory.

Werner and Szarek are among 1,119 fellows named from more than 600 institutions worldwide. Richard Varga, a Case Western Reserve alumnus and adjunct professor, and retired professor at Kent State University, and alumnus Donald Knuth also were chosen.

In all, 18 mathematicians from Ohio, including 12 from Ohio State University and one each from Cleveland State University and the universities of Toledo and Cincinnati were selected for the class of 2013.

“I am extremely happy that they were nominated,” said Daniela Calvetti, chair of the mathematics department. “They both really deserve the honor.”

The fellows program recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication and utilization of mathematics, according to the society. Among the goals of the program are to create an enlarged class of mathematicians recognized by their peers as distinguished for their contributions to the profession and to honor excellence.

With more than 30,000 members around the world, the American Mathematical Society is the largest and most influential society dedicated to mathematical research, scholarship and education, AMS President Eric M. Friedlander said. “The new AMS Fellows Program recognizes some of the most accomplished mathematicians—AMS members who have contributed to our understanding of deep and important mathematical questions, to applications throughout the scientific world, and to educational excellence.”

The two were chosen, in part, because of their leading research and for educating fellow mathematicians, the society said.

Werner was invited to speak about convex geometry, an area of mathematics that deals with specific high dimensional objects, at an American Mathematical Society meeting in Hoboken, N.J. in 2007.

This branch of mathematics is applied in other areas of mathematics and other sciences, ranging from facial recognition and computer programs to quantum computing, from statistics to probability. High-dimensional aspects are relevant in many applications, due to the fact that, with increasing complexity of a system, higher and higher numbers of variables have to be taken into account. High-dimensional convex geometry finds patterns that develop as the dimensions increase.

Szarek spoke about advances in the field of convex geometry and applications to complexity and high dimensions at the 2006 International Congress of Mathematicians in Madrid. The congress is held every four years.

In the several years prior, he gained recognition for helping develop the math and solving a number of long-open problems, including the Knaster Problem, first posed in 1947.

The problem asks whether the legs of a rigid tripod could be placed on a planet in such a way that all three legs are at the same altitude, he explained. Szarek and a colleague found that, at sufficiently large dimensions, this can’t be done.

“It’s nice, sure,” Werner said of the recognition. “I hear from colleagues who learned we were nominated.”

Szarek said that while being named a fellow is a couple of levels below a Nobel Prize, “It’s still one of the larger commissions the mathematical community will give.”

He’s in the process of writing a book about his work and, in the future, Werner expects to write about hers. Both plan to continue to devote much of their time with their PhD students working on new research.

The fellows will be recognized at the annual meeting of the AMS in San Diego, Jan. 9 to 12 next year.