I hope that the many alumni of the Department of Mathematical Sciences have a chance to reconnect with the department by visiting cmu.edu/math. Let us know what’s new with you!

Letter from Mathematical Sciences Department Head, Tom Bohman

This has been a challenging year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I am happy to report that the department nimbly adapted to the new reality and responded in a number of productive ways.

After evacuating campus in March and moving all classes online, faculty developed teaching innovations tailored to the new learning format, and we believe that we are delivering a high-quality educational product. While we hope to gradually move operations back to campus as soon as we are able and we believe that in-person learning is generally superior to its online counterpart, some of lessons learned over the last few months will impact and improve our course delivery even after we are teaching fully in-person again.

In addition to the adaptation of our course delivery, math faculty launched research and entrepreneurial efforts in response to COVID-19. Po-Shen Loh developed and deployed the COVID-19 tracking app, NOVID, which uses ultrasound to detect anonymous positive cases within your network of recent contacts. The app can discern your social proximity to other NOVID users and the length of time of your interaction with them. NOVID works through self-reporting but does not collect personal information.

Wes Pegden and Maria Chikina (Chikina is faculty at the University of Pittsburgh) developed a novel COVID-19 public health response strategy informed by classical mathematical modeling of the pandemic. Two key features of their approach were recognizing that people would not be able to remain quarantined indefinitely, and that the virus would still be present even after the first wave of infections passed. Thus, any strategy has to account for the impact of subsequent waves of infection. Neither one of these notions were prevalent in discussions during the early days of the pandemic when Chikina and Pegden released their potentially life-saving study.

Many of our students had their summer plans canceled due to the pandemic. The department responded by increasing our summer course offerings and expanding our traditional summer research program (SURF). We also introduced the Summer Experiences in Mathematical Sciences (SEMS), a new slate of summer mathematics activities for our majors. The department has been developing a culture of engagement with undergraduate research over the last several summers. This put us in an excellent position to develop the SEMS program on very short notice.

Despite the COVID-19 upheaval, the department continues to produce impressive research results. This issue of the newsletter features recent work in geometry, which is a significant interest of some of the faculty who have joined the department in the last few years. Much of this work is in discrete and convex geometry, an area of mathematics that features not only a wealth of beautiful classical problems but also close and deepening ties with coding theory and data science.

We extend our deepest appreciation and gratitude for your continued support and engagement with the Department of Mathematical Sciences. Likewise, we would like to hear from you! Please keep the department updated by contacting us directly or joining our LinkedIn group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12371860.