Math Professors Earn Sloan Fellows Award
Greene and Treumann were among 126 U.S. and Canadians recognized.
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 02:03
Joshua Greene and David Treumann have at least two things in common. The first is that both were among the 126 U.S. and Canadian researchers chosen as this year’s Sloan Fellows, a key indicator of their emerging leadership within the scientific community as scholars in an early stage of their careers. In fact, many recipients go on to become Nobel Prize winners.
The second common quality is the humble attitude with which both viewed their achievements. “I’m not a genius,” Greene said. “It’s a mystery how I got here,” Treumann said.
Still, both professors do remember exactly how they got started. Treumann’s passion for mathematics began in junior high, when his professor mentioned an elegant equation “that had nothing to do with the rest of the course.” From there, Treumann began an exploration through “the wasteland that is the Internet,” and has not stopped since.
Greene became interested in math through his first high school math course. “I was a little apprehensive,” he said. “Things weren’t starting off so well, and I was kind of indifferent towards it up until then. I was having such a difficulty that I broke down and just opened the book for the first time, and realized that what I was getting hung up on was sometimes, really—I was confused about what the definition of a function was. Then I read the book, and things just kind of clicked. At some point I was doing really well with it, and just wanted to go deeper into it.”
Each professor pointed to a different aspect of mathematics that most attracted him. For Greene, it was “the creative problem solving” and the need to remain “appealing and accessible while conforming to the truth,” while Treumann enjoyed the underplayed “social activity” side of being a mathematician. “All math gets done in conversations,” said Treumann, who advises the BC Math Society.
Greene has been at BC for three semesters, but he has already found it to be “a nurturing place that feels like home.” He enjoys his interactions with students and faculty, as well as the Boston area as a whole.
“The department here is smaller, and as a result feels more close-knit,” Greene said, comparing his current situation with previous experiences at institutions such as UC Berkeley and Princeton University. “A whole group was hired very recently, and young faculty members generally have a lot of energy and excitement.”
Treumann, who earned his doctorate at Princeton and also spent time at Northwestern University, made similar remarks about the youth of the department. “It’s a nice place to be teaching,” he said. “I love it here.”
The $50,000 awarded through the Sloan Fellowship gives scholars the rare opportunity to spend a semester focusing on research alone. “I only recently realized how good a deal this was,” Treumann said. Both Greene and Treumann are still in the process of deciding exactly what they will do with the allotted funds, but they will also be eager to return to teaching.
“I would like to teach knot theory to undergraduates someday,” Greene said. Though knot theory, an “aesthetically appealing” field begun less than a century ago, is his main field of expertise, Greene has taught both graduate students and students at the beginning of their careers, and he relishes the opportunity to provide them with a new framework for mathematical thinking.
“My advice to students would be, if you’re passionate about it, go for it,” Greene said. “Especially here at BC, there is a lot of support for our majors, a lot of people looking out for them.”
“The mathematician is not a lonely genius in a tower,” Treumann said. His own field, string theory, through which he examines the equivalence of two distinct models for the world, is supported by a large community of scientists.
Outside of mathematics, both professors enjoy varied interests. Greene has taken a Spanish course at Boston College, while Treumann is an avid fan of David Bowie.