Our VIGRE Grant
The UW Mathematics Department ranks among a handful of departments nationwide to have won back-to-back five-year VIGRE grants from the National Science Foundation. A collaborative effort with the Departments of Applied Mathematics and of Statistics, our $3.9M VIGRE grant funds undergraduate research projects, graduate student traineeships, postdoctoral fellows, and a variety of activities meant to enrich and broaden the professional development of our students at all levels.
One of the highlights the past year was a visit by our first VIGRE Distinguished Lecturer, Professor Barry Mazur of Harvard University. Mazur recently published a book called Imagining Numbers, in which he gives a lucid account about complex numbers for the general public. This formed the basis of his VIGRE Public Lecture to an overflow audience of 200 people (another 50 couldn't get in!), ranging from first-year undergraduates to faculty to the general public. He was also interviewed for an hour on Seattle's Public Radio KUOW about mathematics. Graduate students supported by VIGRE are responsible for organizing the VIGRE Distinguished Lecturer series, and they have already lined up four more speakers during the next two years.
Another innovation in our current VIGRE grant is support for summer schools for graduate students. We organized two of these this past summer. The first, a week-long "boot camp" in algebraic geometry, immediately preceded an enormous three-week conference in the same subject also held on campus. Although we originally planned on roughly 50 students attending, the boot camp turned out to be wildly popular, and we expanded the program to 130 (from 200 applicants!). The whole program came to be known as the "Woodstock of algebraic geometry." The second was a Summer School on Inverse Problems, involving 44 students, of whom 23 were from the UW. The main lecturer was William Symes of Rice University, who spoke on "The Mathematics of Seismic Imaging." In addition, minicourses consisting of three one-hour lectures covering a broad range of topics were given by five faculty, including Gunther Uhlmann of the UW.
VIGRE continues to support dozens of undergraduates working on projects with faculty. A group of four students (David Duncan, Nick Reichert, Justin Vincent, and Karl Fredrickson) worked Spring Quarter with graduate student Joan Lind and faculty member Steffen Rohde on the Stochastic Loewner Equation. This is currently a very hot topic, undergoing intense work both at the UW and at Microsoft Research, and this experience gave these undergraduates a unique understanding of developing mathematics research. Another group of four undergraduates (Eliana Hechter, Erin Tsai, Justin Vincent-Foglesong, and Jeff Eaton) worked with faculty member Tatiana Toro to organize a Math Fair at Wedgwood school, in which mathematical games and puzzles helped involve students there (and their parents!) in better understanding of concepts.