University professors working on technological advancements in math

Seth Woerhle

Unlike other types of research in which diseases are cured and devices are invented, advances in mathematics tend to occur behind the scenes. But they can have profound effects on other sciences and everyday people’s lives.

The University has approximately 100 professors working on a range of research in its School of Mathematics, some on pure theory and others on real-world applications of theory.

Professor Victor Reiner recently finished a problem requiring four years of study and the application of two sciences.

It began when geology professor James Stout came to the math department to see if math could help streamline the process geologists use to determine the temperature and pressure where a specific strata of rock is formed, creating a diagram based on the compounds that exist in the rock.

“It took us about a year just to understand his language,” Reiner said with a chuckle.

Even after the differences in the two sciences were resolved, the solution took three more years to complete.

Reiner and his colleagues found an older theory of discrete geometrics and created a Web-based program called CHEMOGALE that narrows down the number of possibilities to a manageable level.

The theory, which has yet to be published, allows geologists to decrease the number of required chemical tests.

Professor Peter Olver works on a different intersection of applied and theoretical mathematics.

Olver is trying to help computers see. Although computers can perform incredibly complex calculations, they have trouble with the most basic elements of “seeing” images.

While a human can recognize an individual face from a variety of different angles and in different shades of light, a computer usually needs a perfectly straight-on image to measure distances between landmarks such as the eyes and nose and compare them to a database.

“But as far as recognizing someone if the lighting is different, they’ve grown a beard or shaved or something like that, that’s still well beyond the capabilities of any computer – despite what the news media would have you believe,” Olver said.

That’s why Olver is trying to use identifiable constants such as the curvature of a curve, which remains the same no matter how the scale or angle changes.

He is working with other electrical engineering researchers to make electronic eyes that can see borders and shapes, recognizing not only faces but vehicles and medical images such as X-rays and CAT scans – perhaps one day helping doctors identify tumors.

Working about as far away from applied math as possible, associate professor Alexander Voronov is trying to explain the mechanics of how everything works with one formula.

Called the Grand Unification Theory, it is an attempt to link all other theories into one.

Voronov specifically uses “string theory,” which – in short – states that everything, including time, is made of loops vibrating in multiple dimensions.

Outside the mathematics school but still closely related to the University, the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications serves as an international destination for scientists looking to participate in the yearly topic, currently “optimization.”

Seth Woehrle welcomes comments at [email protected]