back to news Feb. 28, 2012

Mathematician Matt Kahle's Work Garners 2012 Sloan Fellowship

Mathematician Matthew Kahle Ohio's Sole Sloan Fellow

Mathematician Matthew Kahle has just received one of the best career boosts that can be given to an outstanding young scientist or mathematician, a 2012 Alfred Sloan Fellowship. For the second year in a row, he is the only Sloan Fellow chosen from Ohio. Kahle joins a select group of the country's most promising young scientists, including last year's Sloan Fellow, Ohio State mathematician Roman Holowinsky.

Peter March, Divisional Dean, Natural and Mathematical Sciences, said, "Matt's Sloan Fellowship is a wonderful recognition for him and his extraordinary research program. It's also a great statement about the strength of Ohio State's Department of Mathematics that Matt's award makes it five-in-a-row: Roman Holowinsky (2011), Janet Best (2010), Chiu-Yen Kao (2009) and Jean-Francois Lafont (2008)."

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded the two-year, $50,000 Sloan Research Fellowships annually since 1955 to early-career scientists and scholars. The awards are given in recognition of both achievement to-date and potential to make significant contributions to their fields going forward.

Sloan Fellows may use the funds from the award on anything that helps them to further their research. One of the most important things it can do is allow fellows to reduce their teaching load to free up time for research. This can make a critical difference in the career of someone in the early stages of getting firmly established in their field.

"I feel surprised and delighted with receiving the Sloan," Kahle said. "But most of all, I feel appreciation, not only for the Sloan Foundation's generous support, but also for my family and friends who supported me through the years, and helped me get to this point. I am grateful too for all the great mentors I have had ---my graduate advisors and my postdoctoral mentors. I learned things from all of them, about math and about life in general. Also, I appreciate that the math department has made me feel welcome; I feel supported in all my teaching and research activities, and I was honored that they nominated me for this award."

Although the awards are highly-selective, the scholars themselves are not included in the competition process. Typically, they are nominated by their department chair, who solicits letters of support from other professors. In Kahle's case, his nomination was particularly noteworthy in that math department chair Luis Casian nominated him for the award even before he arrived on campus in August 2011.

"When we hired Matt Kahle as an assistant professor, we knew that we had made an extraordinarily good junior hire," Casian said. "Matt Kahle was already considered a leader in the exciting new field of random topology, which combines probability and topology to study the probability that certain shapes may arise in different contexts (for example in biology or physics). Proposing Kahle for a Sloan Research Fellowship, even before he started working at Ohio State, was then a very natural thing to do."

Kahle received his PhD in mathematics from the University of Washington in 2007. He then was awarded the Samuelson Postdoctoral Fellowship at Stanford for 2007-10, along with a NSF Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.

Before coming to Ohio State, he was a member of the School of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton from 2010-2011.

Kahle describes his research as highly interdisciplinary. "I'm really interested in the interactions between different fields of math—topology and geometry with probability, statistical mechanics, and combinatorics," Kahle said.

"I always feel that working on two or three different projects is good for a mathematician to do. When I get stuck on one problem—if I switch to work on another--which is sometimes related, I can work on it from different angles, try a different approach—and the two can end up complementing each other."

Kahle's most recent research mathematically attacks the problem of exactly when a liquid changes into a solid. "We know," he said, "if the liquid is cold enough, it will change into a solid, but not why, geometrically speaking. In liquid, atoms are more random. We don't know how atoms get from a random, liquid state to a crystallized, solid state. This is where viewing the problem through the lens of topology can be very helpful."

The paper he co-authored, "Computational topology for configuration spaces of hard disks," appears in the physics journal, Physical Review E: