Leading math scholars from across the globe are at the University of Massachusetts Boston this week to participate in a conference on representation theory – a field of inquiry that has important applications in chemistry, physics, and biology.
Professor Alfred Noel organized the five-day conference, titled “Unitary Representations of Reductive Groups.” It is one of only nine conferences in the 2012 series funded by the National Science Foundation and the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS). UMass Boston and Brown University are the only universities in New England to host a CBMS gathering this year.
The conference, which continues through Friday at the Campus Center, is the culmination of nearly two years of work for Noel, who was required to submit a proposal detailing his vision for the event.
“I told them there is some serious development taking place right now in the field,” Noel said.
Representation theory is the study of symmetry in mathematical objects and “how things look like when you look at them from different angles,” Noel explained.
“For example, if you look at a molecule, you can move it around, [but] it’s still the same, no matter where you look at it.”
Representation theory exists at the intersection of math and science. Though it is studied by mathematicians, advances made in the understanding of representation theory can guide scientists, economists, and others.
“Nature is built on this,” Noel said. “Physics is built on symmetry. Chemistry is the same way.”
Noel’s expertise is in representation theory of Lie groups, which are used to study. In 2007, Noel was part of a team of mathematicians who successfully mapped E8, a Lie group with 248 dimensions that is considered one of the most complex structures in mathematics. David Vogan, an MIT professor who is delivering the principal lectures at this week’s conference, was also on the E8 team.
Though the conference was slow to develop, Noel said he didn’t mind, noting that patience and persistence are essential in his field.
“As a mathematician, I am used to working five, six years until I have something that I could say that was interesting,” Noel said. “I agree that it took a little while to crystallize, but this is part of the work.”
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