MIT Reports to the President 1997-98


The Department of Mathematics at MIT seeks to improve upon its top ranking in both research and teaching by aggressively hiring the very best faculty, with special attention to the recruitment of top women and under-represented minority candidates, and by continuing to serve the broad and varied educational needs of its graduate students, the mathematics majors, and all undergraduates of the Institute.


During the academic year 1997-98, there were 212 undergraduates majoring in mathematics, 175 in Course XVIII, Mathematics, and 35 in Course XVIII-C, Mathematics/Computer Science. Bachelor of Science degrees, including double majors, were awarded to 76 students, 61 in Course XVIII and 15 in Course XVIII-C.

There were a total of 89 graduate students in mathematics, all in the Ph.D. program. This year 23 students received the doctoral degree.


Professor Aise Johan de Jong will join the Mathematics Department from Princeton University. He is a leading figure in arithmetic algebraic geometry.

Assistant Professor Alan Edelman will be promoted to Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics. His specialization is in numerical analysis.

Dr. Sara Billey in combinatorics and Dr. Santosh Vempala in theoretical computer science will be promoted to Assistant Professor from Instructor in Applied Mathematics. Dr. John Bush joined the department as an Assistant Professor of Applied Mathematics in January, 1998. He came from Cambridge University, and is an experimental and theoretical fluid dynamicist. Dr. Pavel Etingof at Harvard University will be appointed as Assistant Professor. He works in representation theory and related mathematical fields.

Associate Professor James Propp resigned from MIT for a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Assistant Professors Scott Axelrod and Fabian Waleffe also resigned from MIT.


Professor Michael Artin received an Honorary Doctoral degree from the University of Hamburg.

Professor Gian-Carlo Rota was selected by the department faculty to be the next Norbert Wiener Professor of Mathematics through June 2003, following the tenure of Professor Victor Guillemin.

Professor Gilbert Strang was made President-Elect of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) for 1999-2000.

Associate Professor Bonnie Berger received the Dayhoff Award of the Biophysical Society for research by a non-tenured faculty member.

Assistant Professor Michael Brenner was selected for a Career Award by the National Science Foundation, and Assistant Professor Lars Hesselholt was awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship.

Graduate student Daniel Dugger received an Alfred P. Sloan Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship.

Graduate students David Amundsen, Dimitri Kountourogiannis, and Monica Nevins were selected for the Housman Graduate Student Teaching Award, given to a graduate student(s) in mathematics who has demonstrated exceptional skill and dedication to teaching.

Graduate students Alessandro D'Andrea and Salil Vadhan received the Charles W. and Jennifer C. Johnson Prize for an outstanding research paper accepted in a major journal by a graduate student in mathematics

In the summer of 1997, five MIT undergraduates and four mathematics graduate-student mentors participated in the Department's first Summer Program in Undergraduate Research (SPUR). For the undergraduates, this six-week program was a full-time ''research experience'' culminating in written papers and lectures to faculty. The program will continue in 1998.

Last summer seven mathematics graduate students participated in the Research Sciences Institute Program, a national program offering select high school students six weeks of research experience. Of the eleven research projects mentored by the Department's graduate students, four were selected as finalists and two as semi-finalists in the Westinghouse National Talent Search Competition. One of the finalists' projects ranked first overall (in all areas of science and technology), and one ranked fifth.

In the Putnam Intercollegiate Mathematics competition, four MIT undergraduates ranked among the top 25 out of approximately 2500 participants. The MIT team of three undergraduates placed fourth in the competition.

Senior David Jao was awarded the Jon A. Bucsela Prize in Mathematics in recognition of distinguished scholastic achievement. Among those seniors awarded degrees in mathematics, four were elected to Phi Beta Kappa.


Professor Michael Sipser succeeds Professor Hung Cheng as Chairman of the Applied Mathematics Committee. Professor Michael Artin will continue as Chairman of the Undergraduate Committee, Professor Richard Melrose as Chairman of the Graduate Committee, Professor James Munkres as Chairman of the Committee of Advisors, and Professor David Vogan as Chairman of the Pure Mathematics Committee.


Among the educational initiatives of the department, here are the ones that involve the undergraduate core.

Two calculus offerings introduced in recent years continue to prove attractive. Most MIT freshmen have had calculus in high school, and about half place out of 18.01 Calculus (single variable). For many of the rest, the pace of 18.01 Calculus is too slow. For these students the Department offers a sequence 18.01A & 18.02A Calculus, taken by more than 220 students last year (compared to 175 in 18.01 Calculus). It covers the 18.01 material in the first half of the fall term, and then begins with the 18.02 material at the standard pace. Students can complete 18.02 Calculus either in an intensive course during IAP (the most popular choice) or in the first half of the spring semester. Separating these better-prepared students has also made it possible to aim 18.01 Calculus more directly at students with little or no calculus background. For some students who do receive 18.01 credit, the standard fall semester 18.02 (several variable calculus) is a bit too fast-paced. For those students we offer 18.02S; this alternative had about 76 students last fall, compared to 336 in 18.02 Calculus.

We are continuing the experiment of increasing the number of weekly recitation hours from one to two in 18.03 Differential Equations. With an annual enrollment of about one thousand students, this is quite a difficult experiment for the teaching staff. The success we seek--most of all a stronger connection between students and their recitation instructors--is not easy to measure, but we have been pleased with the results.

The Department's practice teaching program, supervised by Professor Haynes Miller, is now required for our graduate students, and is available to new instructors as well. In this program, Teaching Assistants are put into a classroom situation before they are assigned a recitation of their own. We are also continuing the videotaping program organized many years ago by Professor Arthur Mattuck; all new teaching staff are videotaped during their first semester, and Professor Mattuck provides detailed comments on the tapes.

More information about the Mathematics Department can be found on the World Wide Web at the following URL:

David J. Benney

MIT Reports to the President 1997-98