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College Mathematicians Dive into Variety of Hot Topics in Summer Research Program
July 20, 2011
Gesturing to a display board with diagrams and other
information, Jordan Fitch explains, "This is based off of
background work which looked at the overall outside shape of a
slice of French bread." He continues, "I was looking at how
interior bubbles affect the outside shape of the bread." The
display summarizes his research project on "Examining Bread Foams
and Periodic Structures" through Rose-Hulman Institute of
Technology's Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in
Looking Ahead To Graduate School: Participating in Rose-Hulman
Institute of Technology's Research Experiences for Undergraduates
program in mathematics will help JingJing Chen of California's
Pomona College realize her dreams of attending graduate
|Now in its 22ndyear, the REU draws some of the best
and brightest students from colleges across the country each
summer. The program, which is funded by the National Science
Foundation, allows students to do original research in mathematics,
provide a taste of graduate-level work. It also affords
students the opportunity to produce results which can then be
submitted for publication in either undergraduate or professional
Fitch, a mathematics student at Kentucky's Centre College,
explains that after generalizing the bubble size, hexagons were
used to model the interior of the bread's structure. He adds
that Plateau's Laws, which are used to describe the structure of
soap film, apply in this instance because bread behaves as a
An opportunity to conduct undergraduate-level research is a
reason why Fitch is spending his summer at Rose-Hulman, one of the
nation's top-ranked colleges for undergraduate engineering, science
and mathematics education. Student-researchers from
such distinguished colleges as Carnegie-Mellon University,
University of Chicago, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Harvard University, Baylor University, and Princeton University
spend their summers at Rose-Hulman because of the Department of
Mathematics' REU program's reputation for excellence.
Joshua Holden, associate professor of mathematics and director
of Rose-Hulman's math REU, observes that one emphasis for the
program has been to provide students from smaller colleges a
research opportunity they might not otherwise have. The
program also provides a chance for students to earn valuable
letters of recommendation for applying to graduate school.
"I'm looking into applying to graduate school and I wanted a
more competitive edge for my resume," Fitch stated.
Holden adds that participation in the REU program allows
students to make a better informed choice with regard to the future
of their education. "We really try to give them an
understanding of what it means to be a mathematical researcher," he
Assisting Holden with this year's program have been Rose-Hulman
math faculty colleagues Kurt Bryan and David Finn. These
professors choose topics for each year's REU, which are then
advertised to college students interested in mathematics
research. This year's topics over mathematics related to
codes and cyphers, geometry that's related to baking and the
mathematics that you need to find holes in things without opening
them up - such as cast metals.
Holden says that topics are chosen in which "there are still new
things for students to discover." Upon arrival, he says, "We give
the students, depending on the professor, two to four days of
lectures as background before turning them loose." The
students then work independently or in teams, with faculty
mentorship, over a six-week period that Holden says is designed to
"give them a taste of a graduate school research experience."
JingJing Chen, a student at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.,
joined Mark Lotts of Virginia's Randolph-Macon College on research
examining "The Discrete Lambert Map." The quest is to enhance
security by making cryptographic codes which are more difficult to
"We think that the security of a cryptographic system lies in
finding a solution to this problem," Chen states. "It's
really nice to be able to jump into the topic and focus our energy
Lotts added, "This is the first time that I've really proved
things that haven't been proven before and found things that
haven't been found before."
Chen chose to Rose-Hulman's REU program because of her interest
in the topics being researched.
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Mathematics Professor Joshua
Holden helps a student understand a problem during this summer's
Research Experiences for Undergraduates program in
mathematics. Holden is director of the National Science
Working Things Out: Students in Rose-Hulman Institute of
Technology's Mathematics Research Experiences for Undergraduates
program get some helpful advice from professor David Finn during a
recent classroom session.
"I looked at a bunch of REUs and decided on the project most
appealing to me," she says. "I think the REU experience, in
general, is a really important one if you're looking to attend
graduate school in math, as I am."
In addition to her research, Chen also appreciated the program's
emphasis on presentations.
"It's nice to learn how to produce something, present it, and
develop those skills," she notes.
Lotts chose Rose-Hulman's REU program not only because he was
interested in the topics being researched, but also because it gave
him the opportunity to study in a top-notch environment. '
"I wanted the experience of working on original research with
other students that are interested in mathematics," he states,
adding, "and obviously, Rose-Hulman has an outstanding reputation
in math and science."
Learn more about Rose-Hulman's REU