Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Woman 2014

AWM is pleased to present the twenty-third annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to Sarah Peluse, University of Chicago.

Citation: Sarah Peluse

Sarah Peluse is a senior mathematics major at the University of Chicago. She is hailed by the faculty there as one of the “top 5 undergraduates in 49 years.” Peluse transferred to the University of Chicago in 2011 from Lake Forest College, and has gone on to take a rigorous curriculum of advanced mathematics courses. In one reading course, she gave a “seminar-quality presentation at the board” each week, skillfully fielding questions on extensions and applications of the material and discussing current research. She is currently working as a research assistant to a faculty member in the area of model theory. Peluse attended an REU at Williams College, her work there resulted in a talk and poster at the Joint Mathematical Meetings in 2012. She also attended an REU in number theory at Emory University in 2012 and 2013 and was recognized as a “true star”. At Emory, she worked on problems concerning lacunary q-series, irreducible representations of SU(n) which have prime power degree, and zeros of Eichler integrals of cusp forms. This work has resulted in one published article and others submitted for publication. Peluse is described as having impressive creativity and the capability to obtain deep understanding of sophisticated material on her own. Peluse’s recommendation letters praise not only her “impressive talent” but also her motivation, saying that she is a “ferocious worker” who “has a drive … only observed in a few top people.” She is viewed as a “future superstar.”

Response from Sarah Peluse

I am greatly honored to be selected as the winner of the 2014 Schafer Prize. First, I’d like to thank Jan Robinson, my middle school math teacher, for sparking my love for mathand putting up with me when I’d sneak out of my other classes to talk to her about it. I want to thank every math professor I’ve taken a course with at Lake Forest College and the University of Chicago for contributing to my education. In particular, I want to thank Ed Packel and Dave Yuen for encouraging me to pursue math at a higher level and providing outlets to do and discuss math outside of my courses at Lake Forest. I’m exceedingly grateful to Paul Sally for convincing me to come to the University of Chicago, for his ample advice and encouragement, for always looking out for my best interests, and for his always engaging and challenging classes. I’d also like to thank Maryanthe Malliaris for many good mathematical discussions and for pointing out to me interesting talks and papers. I’m thankful for my experiences at the wonderful REUs I attended at Williams College and Emory University. I would especially like to thank Ken Ono for being a fantastic and tireless advisor who is generous with advice,for creating an amazing environment to do math in at the Emory REU, and for suggesting interesting problems to work on. Finally, I want to thank my family, my friends, and my teammates for their love and support.

Runner-Up: Morgan Opie

Morgan Opie is currently a senior mathematics major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Opie was home-schooled from a young age and attended a community college in lieu of high school before transferring to UMass Amherst. Once at UMass, Morgan took and excelled in essentially the entire undergraduate and graduate mathematics curriculum.

She has participated in the Undergraduate Summer School at the UCLA logic center and was an REU student in algebraic geometry at UMass last summer. During her REU, Opie worked on a conjecture concerning the moduli space of stable genus zero curves. Not only did she quickly learn the necessary background to work on the research problem, she in fact found a series of counterexamples to the conjecture. The work has been presented at a conference for young mathematicians and is currently being written up for publication.

Opie’s recommenders describe her mathematical abilities as truly impressive and remarkable. She is able to improvise at the board, discover non-standard and exciting solutions to challenging problems, and effectively share her mathematical insights with others. Moreover, they add that Opie is “One of the new emerging leaders in mathematics.”

Response from Morgan Opie

It is truly an honor to be the 2014 Alice T. Schafer Prize Runner-up. I am grateful to the AWM for advancing women in this field, and in particular for offering the Schafer prize. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge a few of the many individuals who have helped me in my mathematical journey thus far. Firstly, I must thank Professor Jenia Tevelev of the University of Massachusetts. As my teacher and REU mentor, his energetic approach to mathematics, consistent support, and high expectations have been instrumental to my mathematical development. I would also like to thank Professors Eduardo Cattani, Tom Braden, and Richard Ellis of the University of Massachusetts. Their exceptional teaching, insightful explanations, and constant encouragement have motivated me in my quest for mathematical knowledge. I am also grateful to Minxie Zhang and Negash Yusuf, my instructors at Cape Cod Community College, who first inspired me to explore mathematics. Lastly, I would like to thank my family for supporting me in all my endeavors.

Honorable Mention: Shiyu (Jing Jing) Li

Shiyu (Jing Jing) Li
is a senior mathematics major at the University of California at Berkeley. She has an impressive history of mathematical prowess, receiving gold medals in the Girls Math Olympiad in 2009 and 2010 and Honorable Mention in the Putnam Competition in 2010 and 2011. At Berkeley, she has taken an extensive selection of advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in mathematics. She has one research paper published and two further papers have been accepted, all in the area of number theory. Li is also involved in outreach; she founded a program of high school and middle school student competitions called the Berkeley Math Tournament (BMT).

Li participated in an REU at Emory University in 2013, in which she studied the Selberg sieve in response to recent advances on the Twin Primes Problem. Her results are described as “highly nontrivial,” resulting in “two great papers on central questions in number theory.” She is known to be “focused, motivated and smart,” with “stellar” performance in her courses and “extensive mathematics-related activities outside the classroom.”

Response from Shiyu (Jing Jing) Li:

I am deeply honored to have been selected as an Honorable Mention for the Alice T. Schafer Prize. I would like to thank the AWM for their efforts in encouraging women to pursue mathematics. I also want to acknowledge all of the people who have shaped and changed me along my journey, making me into who I am today. In particular, I am thankful to my REU advisors, Drs. Gregg Musiker, Steven J. Miller, and Ken Ono for their help and guidance. These professors have been wonderful mentors who have helped me greatly improve my understanding of mathematical research and solidify my desire to continue pursuing this path. In addition, I would like to show gratitude to the Mathematics department of UC Berkeley, and in particular Drs. Kenneth Ribet, Elena Fuchs, and Lauren Williams for their generous guidance and advice. Lastly, I want to thank my parents and friends for their support, both mathematically and personally.

Honorable Mention: Jessie Zhang

Jessie Zhang graduated from high school in Shanghai in the top 1% of her class and is now a junior mathematics major at MIT. In her first two years at MIT she took, and excelled in, ten upper-level mathematics classes. She is currently spending this academic year at Cambridge University, taking part in the Cambridge-MIT exchange program. Zhang has participated in several undergraduate research projects, including one in robotics and one in physics. Following her first year at MIT, she participated in MIT’s Summer Program in Undergraduate Research, where she worked on research in homotopy theory studying the periodic lambda algebra. She then spent six months at MIT’s CSAIL Center for Robotics, working on mathematical models and machine learning algorithms to create an adaptive table tennis playing robot arm. In March of 2013, Zhang joined a research group in experimental condensed matter physics at Harvard University, where she conducted data analysis on vortices in a superconductor. Zhang also participated in MIT’s Spring High School Studies program, designing and co-teaching a course to advanced high school students.

Zhang’s mentors, describing her as “brilliant, creative, hard-working, independent, and productive, as well as generous with her time in helping other members” of her research team, praise her “extraordinary talent as a designer of efficient algorithms,” and “amazing potential for research.”

Response from Jessie Zhang

I am deeply honored to receive honorable mention of the 2014 Alice T. Schafer Prize. I would like to thank AWM for offering this prize and their continued effort in encouraging women to pursue mathematics. There are many people who have supported and encouraged me to help me get this far. First, I would like to thank my middle school math teacher Ms. Xiaoyi Wang, for introducing me to the beautiful world of mathematics. Without her, I may never have been exposed to the joys of math. I would also like to thank the math department at MIT, for never ceasing to provide me with exciting challenges, and the many people in it – my nominator Professor Artin, for coming out to dinner with a bunch of freshman, my academic adviser Professor Vogan, for coming to watch me compete in a table tennis tournament, Professor Behrens and Guozhen Wang, for a fruitful summer project, and Michael Andrews, for digressing to algebraic
topology in analysis course office hours. I am also grateful to MIT UROP for its abundance of resources and the chance to explore; through UROP, I had the chance to work on a robot playing the best sport in the world, and to meet Professor Hoffman in physics at Harvard, who has been a strong woman role model in pursuing science to me. Last but not least, I would like to express my utmost thanks to my beloved family and friends, without whom I would not be where I am today, and to the wonderful field of mathematics, without which I probably would not be here.