By the Numb3rs - Fall 2020

Letter from the Chair

Dear Readers,

When I wrote my letter for the Spring 2020 Newsletter, we had just forged our way through an unprecedented semester in which all activities were abruptly disrupted, and teaching moved online, due to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. At the time, we were hopeful that a quick resolution would emerge; instead, the fall 2020 semester has seen a continuation of the crisis. There has been a big difference between this semester and last spring, however. Thanks to heroic efforts of faculty, staff and the Pitt administration over the summer, we entered the fall term ready for the challenges that faced us. Tablets and other equipment were distributed, we mastered online teaching technology, and we even realized the benefits of online teaching: recorded videos of lectures that students can re-watch as needed, saved copies of the notes generated in class, and breakout room and polling features that offer students ample opportunities for small-group interaction. Through these features, together with the expertise of Pitt faculty, our Pitt students, who themselves have shown great diligence and determination, have a much richer educational experience than they would encounter through a run-of-the-mill online course. In this newsletter, you can read and watch video reflections of some faculty and students on their online instructional experiences this semester.

Other activities have continued at full intensity as well:  a roster of online seminars, including an ongoing series on mathematical modeling of COVID-19 that we describe in this newsletter; colloquium talks, one of which is highlighted in this newsletter; Math Club activities; and grad student hangouts. And as mathematicians, working with computers, books and our minds rather than lab equipment, we have been able to carry on with plenty of exciting research that pushes the boundaries of knowledge in mathematics and its applications, aided by online meetings with collaborators around the world. Thanks to their strong research agendas, several of our faculty received new research grants since our last issue, and a selection of these are described in the “Featured Research” section of the newsletter.

As always, our success derives from the dedication and hard work of our excellent faculty, staff and students. In this newsletter, we are excited to introduce a new faculty member, Dr. Anne Yust, and to shine our Alumni Spotlight on a recent Pitt Mathematics graduate, Rachel Chiquoine. We know that so many of you are out there tackling your own COVID-related challenges and making creative use of the problem-solving and quantitative skills you fostered during your time at Pitt. We wish you success in these endeavors and perseverance in these unusual times, and we hope that you enjoy this newsletter and stay in touch! Hail to Pitt!!

Jonathan Rubin, Professor and Chair, Department of Mathematics, University of Pittsburgh