A team from the LSU Department of Mathematics was recently awarded a $2.5 million NSF Research Training Group Grant to support initiatives for students and early-career mathematicians seeking to engage in cutting-edge research in the fields of topology, representation theory, and mathematical physics. The LSU team consists of lead PI Dr. Pramod Achar, along with four Co-PIs: Dr. Pallavi Dani, Dr. Gestur Olafsson, Dr. David Shea Vela-Vick, and Dr. Anton Zeitlin. The program is highly competitive, and in the previous five years, the NSF awarded a total of 32 such grants nationwide to research groups in math and statistics departments.
The lead PI, Dr. Pramod Achar, states, “This grant will enrich the research environment at LSU and contribute to the professional development of our graduate students and postdocs through numerous initiatives. We hope that it will make LSU a sought-after institution regionally and nationally for students and early-career researchers interested in the fields of topology, representation theory, and mathematical physics.”
To accomplish this, Dr. Achar describes initiatives on three fronts. Outreach activities will be pitched at a range of levels, including middle and high school students, undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers. Summer research incubators will bring students up to speed on current research topics. The grant will also allow for infrastructure enhancements, such as additional funding for existing departmental research seminars. Through these efforts, the PIs hope to broaden engagement with research-level mathematics while simultaneously helping build a talented workforce of research mathematicians. The team will work with Dr. James Madden and the Cain Center for STEM Literacy to evaluate the success of these initiatives.
Dr. Gestur Olafsson, a CO-PI, is looking forward to the impact this grant will have on the graduate program. “One of the central parts of the proposal is the mentoring and education of our graduate students,” he says. “The grant will allow us to recruit the best graduate students interested in topology, representation theory and mathematical physics. It will a have tremendous effect on our current pool of students and their research opportunities.”
According to LSU Department of Mathematics Department Chair Dr. Oliver Dasbach, the RTG program is a replacement for the NSF Vertical Integration of Research and Education (VIGRE) in the Mathematical Sciences grants for Mathematics and Statistics Departments that was introduced about 25 years ago. These workforce grants aimed to transform the mentoring of math undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdoctoral researchers at top universities. The grants required broad participation from faculty and were intended to foster a collaborative learning environment. Over the course of a decade, math and statistics departments at 41 institutions were awarded VIGRE grants, including Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia, Yale, Chicago and UCLA.
From 2008 to 2016, the LSU Math Department received a VIGRE grant, which had a significant permanent impact. They now offer seminar-style undergraduate courses that were originally developed as part of the VIGRE program and maintain a successful postdoc program. They also started a Student Colloquia Series, which allowed graduate students to invite renowned researchers in the mathematical sciences to give a series of talks and interact with students on campus. These initiatives not only provided valuable learning opportunities for students but also helped to foster a sense of community within the department. Overall, the VIGRE grant played a crucial role in the development of our department. Dr. Dasbach stated, “We anticipate a similar lasting impact from the RTG grant to the research groups and the department.”