Campus: CSU Chico -- May 6, 2004

Mathematicians Receive National Science Foundation Grant for Undergraduate and Teacher Research

Thomas Mattman and Colin Gallagher, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, California State University, Chico, have received a three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to provide research experiences for undergraduates and teachers (REU/T)

Mattman and Gallagher received $200,000 to fund a REU/T project for the next three summers. The funds will support research by mathematics professors, undergraduate students and high school math teachers working together to solve outstanding math problems. The goal is for participants to make original contributions to the body of mathematics knowledge and to publish papers in research journals about their results.

Every summer for the next three years, six undergraduate students and two high school math teachers will be visiting CSU, Chico for six weeks to do research in mathematics. This summer, the focus of the program will be knot theory. In coming summers, students will work on problems in number theory, statistics, mathematical modeling and dynamic geometry.

Knot theory is a relatively new area of mathematics, which has undergone explosive growth in the last 20 years. Earlier this year, a problem in this area, the Poincare Conjecture, was apparently solved (mathematicians are still checking the details of the research by a mathematician named Perelman). This is one of seven problems with a $1 million prize on offer for their solution.

For those who may not know what knot theory in mathematics is, Mattman explained it as following: We take a piece of string and tie a knot in it and fuse the two loose ends of the string. When we study knots mathematically, we allow ourselves to manipulate the closed loop of string as we wish. So long as we don't cut the string, we consider the knot unchanged. This means that the same knot can be realized in very different looking ways. The basic problem in knot theory is to try to determine whether or not two different looking knots are actually the same.

“The idea that undergraduates are capable of tackling unsolved research problems and publishing in academic journals is relatively new. However, it has become a popular idea, and there are currently about three dozen REU sites in mathematics around the country,” said Mattman. “The idea that teachers can also participate in such activities is even more novel. We think it was this feature that helped the NSF decide to fund our proposal.”

Chair Margaret Owens, Jorgen Berglund and Terry Kiser, also from Mathematics and Statistics, will assist with the project. The program is open to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Currently employed teachers and students intending to continue undergraduate studies in the fall are eligible.

Contacts: Kathleen McPartland, 530-898-4260
Thomas Mattman, 530-898-5345,

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