Pushing math to the limit

June 11th, 2012 by Matt Collette
You may not have taken a math class for many years, but you prob­ably remember the equa­tion “y = mx + b.” If pressed, you could prob­ably recall the qua­dratic equa­tion. And you might know that the square root of neg­a­tive one is an imag­i­nary number.

For most of the adult pop­u­la­tion — including scholars with advanced degrees — algebra exists in the deep recesses of the mind. It might reveal itself at the super­market or the gas sta­tion, a tool used by the mod­er­ately math­e­mat­i­cally inclined to figure out the best deal on chips and salsa for the Super Bowl party or the right time to fuel up before a road trip.

North­eastern math­e­matics pro­fessor Jerzy Weyman doesn’t do that kind of algebra.

Instead, he focuses his atten­tion on one of the fur­thest reaches of math­e­matics called alge­braic cobor­dism theory. Cobor­dism explores a variety of higher-​​dimensional objects, pushing math’s limits far beyond our per­cep­tion or under­standing of the phys­ical world.

Weyman is cur­rently in Essen, Ger­many, where is con­ducting math­e­mat­ical research with Marc Levine, a former North­eastern col­league and cur­rent fac­ulty member at the Uni­ver­sität Duisburg-​​Essen. Levine spon­sored Weyman’s appli­ca­tion to become a Hum­boldt fellow and is hosting his 12-​​month stay in Ger­many, which will be spread over the next three summers.

The pres­ti­gious award is spon­sored by the German gov­ern­ment and the Alexander van Hum­boldt Foun­da­tion to bring tal­ented for­eign scholars to the country’s top uni­ver­si­ties and research institutions.

“This gives me the freedom to study a wide range of topics without all the dis­trac­tions that come from being on campus,” Weyman said. “So now I can focus on my stu­dents during the aca­d­emic year and use the sum­mers to truly focus on my research.”

Provided by Northeastern University

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