By the Numb3rs Spring 2013


Message from the Chair

Dear Alumni and Friends of the Department of Mathematics:

In this issue of By the Numb3rs you can read about recent developments in the Department as well as some accomplishments by our students and faculty. The Mathematics Research Center was established with a generous support from the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. It is in its second year of activities, with several exciting workshops, conferences, and semester-long programs already organized and many more planned in the future. Our NSF funded Research Training Group grant on mathematical and computational modeling of complex biological systems was a great success. In addition to providing numerous research and educational opportunities for postdocs, graduate, and undergraduate students, it lead to the recent development of the Mathematical Biology Major. We are pleased to share with you that our colleague Professor Brent Doiron received the Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award. We are also proud to share a number of other awards received by our students and faculty. We feature four of our graduate student alumni who recently visited the Department to share with us their professional experience after graduation. We introduce several outstanding young faculty whom we have been fortunate to recruit in the last two years. We thank our retiring colleague Professor Beverly Michael for more than 30 years of exceptional service to the Department of Mathematics.

As always, please keep in touch. We would love to hear from you. Visit our web page for information on how to contact us and for the latest news about the Department.

Sincerely yours,

Ivan Yotov, Chair
Department of Mathematics

Dr. Brent Doiron Recieves the Chancellor's Distinguished Research Award  2012

The Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award annually recognizes outstanding scholarly accomplishments of members of the University of Pittsburgh’s faculty.   Dr. Brent Doiron was awarded the Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award 2012.

This award is awarded to faculty members who have compiled a substantial and continuing record of outstanding research and scholarly activity. They have achieved preeminence in their field and have been recognized in letters of support from national and international leaders in the field.  More>


What Can I Do with My Graduate Degree?

"What can I do with a graduate degree in math?" Its a natural question. Many of our graduate alumni stay in academia researching and teaching math, but others find rewarding careers in industry. In the Fall semester the graduate SIAM group -  Marina Moraiti, Michaela Kubacki, Glen Young and Abigail Snyder - organized a "Careers in Math" workshop, highlighted by talks from four recent alumni. The four: Robert Berry (who models climate to assist pricing crop insurance at a Silicon Valley start-up), Matthew Jackson (a bio-statistician at the FDA), Sara Hritz (software engineer at Lockheed Martin) and Bojana Pejic (now a credit risk manager for UBS Investment Bank), explained what their job entails, how they found it, and the daily highs and lows of applying math in the "real world."

Robert Berry

Quantitative Researcher
The Climate Corporation

Robert Berry started his career with a BS in Math and Physics from Utah State University and a MS from Brigham Young University in 2004. Robert decided to pursue his Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh. Working with Professor Juan Manfredi, Robert finished his Ph.D. in 2009, with the dissertation entitled "Lipschitz Estimates for Geodesics in the Heisenberg Group." Much like today, 2009 was not an easy year to enter the work force; however, Robert was offered a Postdoctoral position at Sandia National Laboratories---specifically in the Combustion Research Facility in Livermore, California. In January 2012, he made the leap into the Silicon Valley start-up by accepting a position with The Climate Corporation in San Francisco as a Quantitative Researcher. There he develops hyper-local statistical climatological models using petabytes of data. The Climate Corp is using its models to completely upend the crop insurance world with its unique combination of Big Data, climatology, and crop modeling.

Matthew Jackson

Mathematical Statistician
US Food and Drug Administration

Matthew Jackson is a mathematical statistician at the US Food and Drug Administration. He completed his PhD in mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh in 2006, under the direction of Bob Heath and Steve Awodey (CMU). His dissertation (A Sheaf Theoretic Approach to Measure Theory) lies in the (very small) intersection of geometry, logic, and analysis.  Prior to coming to Pitt, he completed degrees in mathematics and music at the University of Canterbury, in Christchurch, New Zealand, and a masters degree in logic from CMU. After graduating from Pitt, he worked for two years as Visiting Assistant Professor at Lawrence University, in Appleton, Wisconsin, and has been at the FDA since 2008.  Matthew's work at the FDA involves statistics and informatics. The core of his work is the review of long term carcinogenicity studies in rodents, studies that are included as a matter of routine in most New Drug Applications (NDAs) submitted to the FDA. Relatedly, his statistical research focuses on the improvement of methods for conducting and analyzing rodent carcinogenicity studies, and on analytic methods appropriate to small samples or rare events where traditional asymptotic methods based on the Central Limit Theorem are inapplicable. His informatics work is focused on the design and implementation of data standards for clinical and preclinical trials.

Sara Hritz

Software Engineer
Lockheed Martin

Sara Hritz is originally from Clarion, PA. She attended the University of Pittsburgh for her undergraduate career from 2004 to 2008. She graduated with a major in Mathematics and a minor in Studio Arts, with a GPA of 3.969. She was awarded with the Blumberg Memorial Scholarship and Wilma Binder Zeder Memorial Scholarship and nominated for the Emma W. Locke Memorial Award and Elizabeth Baranger Excellence in Teaching Award.  In 2010, she was accepted into the Applied Mathematics graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh, where she was a Teaching Assistant. She completed her Master of Science thesis titled “Phenomenology and Computations of a Regularization of the Navier-Stokes Equations Related to a Non-Newtonian Fluid Flow Model” and graduated with a GPA of 3.977. Upon graduation, she was hired by Lockheed Martin as a software engineer, where she is still employed.

Bojana Pejic

CVA Trader/Counterparty Credit, Risk Manager
UBS Investment Bank

Bojana received a MMath from the University of Oxford in 2001. She then attended the University of Pittsburgh, did her thesis research in collaboration with Professor Paul Gartside, and graduated in 2007 with a PhD in mathematics. Her dissertation was titled, “On the Uniqueness of Polish Group Topologies”, and received the Hales prize for best PhD thesis. Shortly before the stock market meltdown of 2008, she started working for UBS investment Bank as a Financial Markets Education Instructor in New York. A turbulent few years later, in 2011, she became a CVA Trader/Counterparty Credit Risk Manager.

Undergraduates Involved in Research

Student: Boning Hao
Mentor: Professor William Layton

Turbulence is one of the great mysteries in our understanding of the universe and central to many challenges facing human life today. The ``true'' equations of fluid motion are known but their solutions contain too much information as solutions include every detail we see in fluid flow around us. Since Heisenberg [and even before] there has been an intense effort to write down simple models that separate universal features from apparently random fluctuating features. This is the problem of predicting the effect of the unknowable on the observable.  Boning Hao's research has been to use two complementary such theories to evaluate each other. By applying energy transfer models [developed for forced turbulence] to decaying turbulence, insight is obtained as to which models are merely descriptive, i.e., ``just so'' stories, and which have hope to be predictive for certain flows.

Student: Mahjub Hammond
Mentor: Professor Bard Ermentrout

For the last year, Professor Ermentrout has been working with Mahjub Hammond (a neuroscience major, with an interest in computational issues) on modeling of networks of excitatory and inhibitory cells that produce rhythmic output. These rhythms appear to be related to attention and cognition and are found to be disrupted in schizophrenics. Working closely with an experimental group at Pitt, they have studied how the properties of the inhibitory neurons affect the ability of the network to produce robust rhythms. Experiments show that in young animals (and humans) the properties of the cells are very different from those of mature animals and their models are designed to better understand the implications of these changes on the production of the cognitive rhythms. Mahjub has presented this work in several poster sessions both here at Pitt and at other institutions. They are writing it up for publication along with the experimental work.

Math Research Center

The Mathematics Research Center was established in 2011 with support from the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences at University of Pittsburgh. The MRC operates within the Department of Mathematics and its research activities encompass a broad range of areas, including Algebra, Combinatorics, Geometry, Topology, Analysis, Applied Analysis, Mathematical Biology, Mathematical Finance, Numerical Analysis, and Scientific Computing. Ongoing activities include semester themes, distinguished lecture series, workshops, miniconferences, research seminars, a visitor program, and a postdoctoral program. More>

The Mathematical Biology Major:  Passport to a Scientific Frontier

Scientific leaders have hailed the 21st century as “The Century of Biology”.  Thanks to technological breakthroughs, biologists are accumulating massive quantities of data at unprecedented levels of detail, pushing forward the frontiers of research in the study of our living world.   Mathematics has long been an important tool in certain areas of biology, like neuroscience.  But it is in the current wave of progress that mathematics is truly blossoming as an integral part of the study of biology and medicine.  The Department of Mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh is a world leader in mathematical biology research, and we are excited to offer a chance for undergraduate students to join in the action with our brand new Mathematical Biology major.

Mathematical methods are used, for example, to efficiently deal with massive biological data sets, to extract patterns from this flood of information, and to automate processing of biological and medical images.  Our specialty at Pitt goes beyond these areas to the development and analysis of mathematical models of biological systems.  A mathematical model is a mathematical representation, for example a system of differential equations, that captures the critical elements of a system under study.  A model takes what is known from experiments and puts it together in a package that can be studied mathematically or simulated on a computer.  These steps lead to new predictions about how a biological system actually works, which can be tested with subsequent biological experiments.  For example, models developed by Pitt faculty have made novel predictions about such diverse topics as how fish distinguish prey from other stimuli, how healing will progress in various types of wounds, and how neural circuits maintain respiratory rhythms across changing conditions. These same ideas apply in medical applications as well; for example, our faculty’s work on Parkinson’s disease points out how the loss of certain cells in the brain may lead to motor symptoms and thus suggests ideas for therapeutic interventions, and we are working with physicians on using models of inflammation to guide personalized treatment for ICU patients at risk for sepsis.  Our goal is that all Mathematical Biology majors will be trained to participate in these types of research projects, at Pitt or in summer programs elsewhere, by the end of their undergraduate careers.

Our Mathematical Biology major emphasizes modeling through new modeling-focused courses on computational neuroscience (Math 1370) and mathematical biology (Math 1380).  In addition to taking Mathematics classes, Math Bio majors take four biology or neuroscience courses, selected from a broad list of options, allowing them to pursue their personal interests in the life sciences and gain biological fluency, a critical skill for interdisciplinary work.  Mathematical Biology majors will be well prepared for employment in the rapidly growing biotechnology field and for enrollment in graduate and medical schools (e.g., recent participants in our undergraduate mathematical biology research program have enrolled in Ph.D. programs at Cornell University, Harvard University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of California San Diego and in medical school at the University of Pittsburgh).  Indeed, the American Association of Medical Colleges and Howard Hughes Institute have recently highlighted the growing importance of quantitative knowledge and reasoning skills for physicians, portending a trend toward an increased emphasis on quantitative competencies in medical education and admissions.  With a Mathematical Biology major, students will be perfectly prepared to join the push for quantitative advances in medicine, as well as in other areas of biology and biotechnology.

More information on the Mathematical Biology major, and all Mathematics Department Undergraduate Degrees, can be found at

The detailed requirements for the Bachelor of Science in Mathematical Biology are listed at

We hope that students with interests in mathematics and biology or neuroscience will seriously consider this innovative degree option!