back to news March 2, 2011

Mathematician Roman Holowinsky Is Making Waves

Mathematician Roman Holowinsky has just received one of the best recognitions a young scientist can hope for, a 2011 Alfred Sloan Fellowship. The only Sloan Fellow chosen from Ohio this year, he joins a select group of the country’s most promising young scientists.

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 their achievement to-date and potential to contribute substantially to their fields going forward.

“I am really thrilled to receive this award,” Holowinsky said.“First, it is an honor. Second, I can use the funds on anything that allows me to further my research, such as travel to conferences, or reducing my teaching load to allow more time to work on my projects.”

Although the awards are highly-selective, the scholars themselves are not involved in the competitive process. Holowinsky was nominated for the Sloan Award by his department chair, Luis Casian, who then solicited letters of support from other professors.

Holowinsky, who received his PhD in mathematics from Rutgers University, studies number theory, an area of pure mathematics with surprising connections to physics. Recently, in fact, he and Stanford University colleague Kannan Soundararajan, solved a problem in quantum chaos posed fifteen years earlier that involved understanding how sound waves are influenced by the geometry of their enclosure. Read more about their work, which has been called “brilliant,” at: http://www.aimath.org/news/que/

After receiving undergraduate degrees in both math and computer science, and working for a summer  as a programmer, Holowinsky found the lure of graduate work in mathematics irresistible. “I was always interested in math; mathematics is constantly challenging and creative.”

Enchantment with number theory came a bit later, after taking a course with Henryk Iwaniec, a noted number theorist. “The timing was perfect; I was in my second year of graduate school, the deadline for selecting my specialty and thesis advisor was getting really close and here it was—I fell upon it.”

It is pretty clear that for someone who resists all attempts by friends to try Sudoku, the popular Japanese puzzles, because, “it really isn’t fun for me to work on things I know have easy solutions,” that working on number theory’s puzzles, for which solutions might take a lifetime, was the right path.

“With number theory, you have questions which are simple to state—but, not only are these easily understood questions harder to solve, even if you do solve them, you are constantly getting new questions and ideas. I guess I love math because it is a process that never ends.”

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