Message from the Department Head


Greetings from all of us at the Mathematics Department and welcome to our first online Math PUrview. For the past 16 years, the department has published a printed newsletter and mailed it to our math alumni and friends. This year we begin a new era by creating an electronic newsletter and making it available on our website. We hope you will find the online newsletter accessible and easy to read. I also encourage you to visit our website regularly to keep up with departmental news throughout the year.

In this newsletter you will read about the many awards and recognitions received by members of the department and other news from the past year. I am also happy to report here that, despite the financial uncertainties facing the university, we had a successful hiring season. We are pleased to welcome two new tenure-track assistant professors this fall. Benjamin McReynolds is coming from the University of Chicago where he was a Dickson Instructor and an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow. Ben's research is in the general area of geometric group theory, emphasizing various algebraic techniques to different directions in geometry, topology, and spectral geometry. Jonathon Peterson is coming from Cornell University where he was a Wang Assistant Professor and an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow. Jon's research is in probability theory focusing on stochastic processes in random environments. Ben and Jon are great additions to the department. This year we also hired five Golomb Research Assistant Professors in several of the research areas represented by the department.

Summer 2011 will bring several changes to the Mathematics Department. I will complete my term as department head, and Laszlo Lempert will become the new head. While it has been a privilege to serve the department in this capacity, I look forward to returning to my civilian life as simply "professor of mathematics," with my ordinary responsibilities of teaching, research, and lighter load of departmental and university service. Johnny Brown will step down from his role as associate head when his term ends on June 30. Antonio Sa Barreto will assume those duties in July. These changes follow the long-standing tradition of changing department leadership at regular intervals. Despite the many challenges facing the department due to serious budget cuts, coupled with higher enrollments in most mathematics courses and the competitive environment for outstanding faculty, I am confident that Laszlo and Antonio will do a great job running the department and that the department will flourish under their leadership. I wish them both the best of luck, and I want to assure them that Johnny, myself, and many other colleagues will be nearby in case we're ever needed. Also, we will undergo other personnel changes, as several long-term staff members opted to take advantage of the retirement incentive offered by the university last fall to faculty and staff. You can read more about these retirements under Staff News.

Looking back, when I took over as head in the summer of 2007, I received many words of advice and best wishes from colleagues and friends at Purdue and around the country. These were all valuable to me at different times. One comment that I remembered well throughout my tenure as head came from my close friend Richard Tapia of Rice University. When I told Richard that I had accepted the position of Head of Mathematics at Purdue, he replied with various words of advice and wisdom and ended with the statement: "Rodrigo, you will learn in multiple dimensions." He was absolutely right—I indeed learned in many "non-Euclidean" dimensions. I learned that there are many components—all working together—that make this the great department that it is. We have great students, both undergraduate and graduate. We have an extraordinary staff whose hard work and dedication keep the department running smoothly day after day, week after week, and semester after semester. I am indebted to all of them for their kind support during my years as head.

We have an outstanding world-class faculty who produce great research in many fields of pure and applied mathematics and at the same time are dedicated to ensuring that Purdue students, both undergraduate and graduate, receive a first-rate mathematics education. Our teaching staff (lecturers) play a fundamental role in the teaching operation of the department and touch the academic lives of thousands of students from every corner of the university, not just in science and engineering. We enjoy the support of many alumni and friends who, despite being away from campus for many years, have great memories of the department and support it in multiple ways. I learned that in order to accomplish our departmental goals, we need to work with the higher administration and that in fact the higher administration needs and values our ideas and advice. Finally, I learned that it is fun for the department head to enjoy (and even to "brag about") the accomplishments, awards, and recognitions of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

And speaking of students, faculty, and alumni, I am pleased to share with you the writings of two people who were both students and faculty members in our department. Last fall, Wendell Fleming, professor emeritus at Brown University, shared with me his article "Remembrances of Life as a Young Husband and Mathematician," which includes his memories of the Purdue Mathematics Department while a student and later a young faculty member. In working on his personal and professional memoirs, professor emeritus Bill Fuller has constructed a detailed account of an historic transitional period in our department and at the university. Wendell and Bill both gave us permission to share their accounts with you. These are wonderful readings, and I very much hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Both files are available in pdf format. (Remembrances of Life as a Young Husband and Mathematician by Wendell Fleming | My Life at Purdue by William Fuller)

As always, we love to hear from our alumni, friends, and all readers of our newsletter. Whether you are on campus or simply thinking back on your days at the Purdue Math Department, you are most welcome to come by and say hello or to drop us a line and let us know how things are going with you.

Thank you for your support and best wishes,

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