Steacie Fellowship will fund pure math research

(Edmonton) A University of Alberta mathematician has returned from Ottawa with a $250,000 grant to continue his work developing new math theories.

Alexander Litvak received the award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The money from NSERC’s E.R.W. Steacie Memorial Fellowship program will support Litvak’s research for two years and gives his U of A faculty, mathematics and statistical sciences, funding for a teaching replacement during the fellowship period.

Litvak says the award shows the importance of pure mathematics studies at the U of A. “The benefits of pure math research are not immediate,” although he says this type of research is “an investment in the future and as yet unknown applications for our theoretical work.”

Litvak says that much of the technology that we take for granted today, such as the computer and digital communication devices like cell phones and GPS,are the result of research in pure mathematics. “Throughout history the pursuit of abstract theories in mathematics has pushed sciences forward, sciences like astronomy, physics and engineering,” said Litvak.

This is the 10th Steacie Fellowship awarded to the U of A in the last decade. University President Indira Samarasekera congratulated Litvak. “This is a tremendous opportunity for Alexander, two years to devote to his research specialty,” said Samarasekera. “The award also underscores the importance and recognition for basic research done at this university.”

Litvak likens the speculative nature of his mathematical research to circumstances that led Scottish physicist and mathematician James Clark Maxwell to develop the theory of electromagnetism in the 19th century. “Maxwell could have spent his time developing a better candle. But he experimented with electricity. No one knew if it would pay off, but it did and now we have electric lights.”

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