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AMS names seven Rice faculty members fellows

By Brooke Bullock     11/8/12 6:00pm


Seven Rice faculty members accepted positions as fellows in the American Mathematical Society's inaugural class. All 1,141 of the 2013 AMS fellows were announced Nov. 1. 

The number of fellows is expected to represent approximately five percent of the over 30,000 members of the society, according to the AMS website. 

Members were invited to become a fellow if they satisfied one of three other requirements: they had given an invited AMS address, had received an AMS research prize, or had given an invited address at an International Congress of Mathematicians or an International Congress of Industrial and Applied Mathematicians, according to the AMS website. 

The Rice AMS fellows are professors Michael Wolf and John Hempel, Wiess Career Department Chair and professor David Damanik, associate professor Shelly Harvey, professor emeritus and research professor John Polking, adjunct research professor Michael Field, and Edgar Odell Lovett professor William Veech. 

Damanik said the AMS fellows program makes up in a way for the lack of prizes and awards in the mathematics discipline. 

"In mathematics there are very few awards or prizes," Damanik said. "Mathematicians always seem to be inferior on paper because of this." 

The AMS fellows program was first proposed in 2006, and then again in 2008, but it did not receive the two-thirds vote it needed to pass, the AMS website states. In January 2012, the proposal passed with 65.3 percent for the program when AMS decided only 50 percent of members needed to vote in favor of it, according to the AMS website. 

Wolf said one reason there was a struggle to approve the fellows proposal was a concern over competitiveness affecting mathematicians' willingness to communicate with one another. 

"There was a very strong egalitarian streak in the mathematical field - the idea being that all mathematicians should be and are interested in talking about mathematics with other mathematicians," Wolf said. 

Hempel said some members of the mathematics discipline may not see much additional recognition in the Fellows. 

"Mathematicians tend to be a little bit purist," Hempel said. "Some people might regard this kind of program as a way of patting yourself on the back." 

Wolf said that though seven professors were given the honor of being AMS fellows, most of the members of the Rice mathematics department deserve the award. 

"It's a very strong department," Wolf said. "The way the AMS arranged the rules - and I have no quarrel with the rules - they omitted a number of people who were just as deserving as I was." 

Jones College junior and computational and applied mathematics major Missy Lucas said the recognition would help bring more attention to the mathematics department. 

"I think it's good just to have recognition in general," Lucas said. "It gives more visibility for the math department because not that many undergraduates are math majors. It might encourage more people to major or minor in math." 

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