Friday, September 18, 2015

Chilean Mathematician, Dr. Anita Rojas, spends Spring 2015 at Grinnell as the International Heath Professor

Dr. Anita Rojas, Chilean Mathematician, hosted by Jennifer Paulhus, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, came for the spring semester, 2015 as the John R. Heath Professor. Endowed in honor of John Reardon Heath, Grinnell Class of 1919, who was an active member and President of the Grinnell Board of Trustees and gave steadfast support to Grinnell’s long and continuing engagement with the world, the Heath Professorship brings to Grinnell College the most distinguished international figures for a semester-length stay. 

The mathematics and statistics department was thrilled to have the opportunity to host Dr. Rojas from Universidad de Chile for the Spring of 2015. She taught two courses for the department:  MAT-295: "Cryptography/Coding Theory" and  MAT-395: "Representation Theory." Both went well and in the End-of-Course evaluations, students spoke well of each of them. 

The "Representation Theory" course replaced another course normally taught for majors. Students were very happy with the opportunity to learn material not usually present (due to schedule constraints and personnel expertise).  The 200-level course gave both lower level majors, as well some students who enjoy math but do not plan to major in it, an opportunity to take a course with an expert and again learn material the department is unable to teach due to schedule constraints.   

Dr. Rojas gave two talks while here.  The first was a campus presentation entitled “A View of Chile Through a Mathematician’s Eyes” and the second was a talk to the department called “Representation theory and abelian varieties with symmetries".  She also attended one of Eliza Willis' classes to discuss the student protest movements in Chile.  Her husband, Geir da Silva, had the unique opportunity to display his photographs from those student protests at the Grinnell Arts Council.  This was such a special and serendipitous event, not just for them, but for the Grinnell community.

Dr. Rojas came to Grinnell for the semester with her husband and her two daughters, Lia (15) and Tié (4). She and her husband went to Spanish table almost every week and met many students and faculty not affiliated with the math/stats department.  She also had a series of “play dates” with her younger daughter which gave other faculty a chance to meet her and learn more about Chile (and mathematics!). Faculty that she and her family had regular interactions with include:  Michael Gunther, Cynthia Hansen, Heriberto Hernandez, Matt Johnson, Martin Minelli, Cori Ortiz, Elizabeth Prevost, Sara Sanders, and Pablo Silva. 

Her connections with Grinnell students and faulty, as well as her time in the Grinnell community, truly modeled an ideal John R. Heath Professorship. Currently, Dr. Manuel Gadella, Spanish Physicist, hosted by Sujeev Wickramasekara, Associate Professor of Physics, is the 2015-2016 Visiting Heath Professor. He is teaching two courses: 
  • PHY 295-01 Special Topic: Mathematical Methods of Physics. An introduction to several mathematical techniques used in physics, including Hilbert spaces, general topological vector spaces, operator algebras, spectral theory and measure theory. Aug-27 to Dec-18.
  • PHY 395-01 Special Topic: Theory of Classical Fields. An introduction to the theory of classical fields, including calculus variations and the action principle, the Lagrangian and Halmiltonian descriptions of fields, applications to the electromagnetic fields. Aug-31 to Oct-9. 
 (Post adapted from a write-up from Jennifer  Paulhus detailing Dr. Roja's activities as the Spring '15, Heath Visiting Professor)

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