Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Woman 2017

AWM is pleased to present the twenty-seventh annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to Hannah Larson, Harvard University.

Citation: Hannah Larson

Hannah Larson is a senior mathematics major at Harvard University where she is a Herchel Smith Harvard Undergraduate Science Research Fellow and Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship recipient. She has been doing “jaw-dropping” mathematical work since she was a high school student when she won the Davidson Fellowship for her work on fusion categories. At Harvard she has been taking advanced graduate courses such as algebraic geometry where she “sailed through the course; she did all the assignments and did them perfectly” and algebraic curves where she “was at the top of the class.”

Larson did research at University of Oregon as a high school student participated in the Number Theory REU at Emory for three summers, and did research at Harvard for one summer. She has published eight papers in a variety of fields: number theory, algebra, combinatorics, and moonshine. Her work in moonshine, for example, was an extension of Borcherds’ Fields Medal work. She was able to answer a question posed by Ed Witten. “Her work was completely unexpected…This reordering is presently a mystery in the math physics community, and it is called the
‘Larson Anomaly’.”

As her mentors say, “Hannah Larson is a phenomenon. She has been a star for many years, first as a high school student in Oregon…Incredibly, she wrote 5 papers in the summer of 2015… I have never witnessed anything like Hannah’s 2015 REU performance.” “She is an exceptional student.” “She will be a star.”

Response from Hannah Larson

I am very honored to receive the 2017 Alice T. Schafer Prize. I would like to thank the Association for Women in Mathematics for creating this prize and supporting women in math. I would also like to thank my professors and mentors for their incredible support, without which I would not be here today. I am especially grateful to Professor Victor Ostrik for mentoring my first research project in high school; to Professor Ken Ono for challenging me with interesting problems at his Research Experience for Undergraduates at Emory University and for his years of steadfast support and counsel; and to Professor Joe Harris for his inspiring teaching and advising my senior thesis. I also want to thank my middle school math teacher, Marna Knoer, for sparking my interest in math. Finally, thank you to my family for their love and encouragement, and especially to my older brother and role model, Eric Larson, for always supporting me, mathematically and personally.

Runner-Up: Sarah McClain Fleming

Sarah McClain Fleming is a senior at Williams College. She is active in her department and vice president of the Williams College AWM chapter. She has received a Goldwater Scholarship and the Erastus C. Benedict, Class of 1821, Prize in Mathematics that recognizes sophomore math majors. Starting from her first semester at Williams, she “greatly enjoyed studying advanced topics in Mathematics and [her instructors were] delighted to observe, throughout the semester, her talent and passion for both mathematics and physics.”

Fleming has “produced an impressive amount of original research in mathematics.” She has participated in the SMALL REU at Williams College and REUs at Emory University and the University of Michigan. Fleming “has superb mathematical talent, and approaches problems with great energy and creativity.” Her research has focused on a range of algebra topics and as part of these experiences, she has written four papers. Two of these papers are submitted to journals and the two others have been accepted for publication.

Fleming’s mentors describe the rich mathematical conversations they have had with her – it is a “tremendous joy to talk to a student with so much drive and passion for mathematics!” They also praise her enthusiasm and understanding. “She is exceptionally strong, talented and passionate about mathematics” and “her potential for a successful research career in mathematics is incredibly high.”

Honorable Mention: Lea Kenigsberg

Lea Kenigsberg is a senior mathematics major at Stony Brook University who holds a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship; she has excelled in challenging courses both at Stony Brook and as a participant in the Women in Math program at the Institute for Advanced Studies. She is described as “act[ing] as an engine for the class: asking pertinent questions and finding mistakes, as well as encouraging all of the class to deepen their understanding.”

Kenigsberg has done research in spectral analysis at the Rutgers University REU and in geometry at Williams’ SMALL program. At the latter she proved a result settling an open “conjecture of wide interest” in work described as “a major result that required much faith and persistence.”

Kenigsberg’s mentors praise her “serious passion for math,” describing her as “absolutely outstanding” and “at the start of a notable career in mathematics.” “ [S]he will leave the mathematical world in a better state than when she found it, from the human and intellectual point of view.”

Honorable Mention: Gwyneth Moreland

Gwyneth Moreland is a senior mathematics major at the University of Michigan who holds a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and has won three named mathematics prizes at Michigan: the William LeVeque Award in algebra, the Jack McLaughlin Award in number theory, and the Evelyn O. Bychinsky Award.

Moreland worked on number theory research projects with Michigan faculty in high school; she has since participated in REUs at the University of Chicago, Williams (the SMALL program), and Michigan, and has two papers under review. She is co-president of Michigan’s Society for Undergraduate Math Students and has worked with high school students at both the Michigan Math and Science Scholars program and the Ross Mathematics Program at Ohio State University.

Moreland’s mentors describe her as “a fantastic student” with an “excellent track record in research” who is able to “get at the essence of questions or problems.”

Honorable Mention: Yen Nhi Truong Vu

Yen Nhi Truong Vu is a senior at Amherst College where she is a recipient of the Charles W. Cole Scholarship, the Walker Prize, and the Hamilton Prize. She has received high marks in her courses at Amherst as well as courses at M.I.T. and University of Paris. “Her performance on every item assigned… was essentially perfect. She is meticulous and strives to understand every last detail.”

Truong Vu participated in the SMALL REU at Williams College where she worked on random matrix ensembles, low-lying zeros of L-functions, generalized Zekendorf decompositions, and integer complexity. She also participated in summer research at Amherst College. At Amherst, her group worked on modular and mock modular forms. “Nhi was the leader in her summer research group, driving the team to discuss and prove theorems.” Their work was published in the Journal of Number Theory.

As one of her mentors describes her, Truong Vu “is truly outstanding. She is the best female student I have ever encountered, … and among the very, very best of any gender. She is extremely hardworking, a devourer of mathematics, ambitious, and extremely strong in terms of her mathematical abilities and talents. She is a leader in and out of the classroom and an outstanding mathematical citizen.”