Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an Undergraduate Women 2018

AWM is pleased to present the twenty-eight annual Alice T. Schafer Prize to Libby Taylor, Georgia Institute of Technology

Citation: Libby Taylor

Libby Taylor is a senior mathematics major at the Georgia Institute of Technology; she began taking mathematics courses there during high school. Faculty describe her as currently “performing at the level of an exceptional graduate student.” She participated along with graduate students in the 2017 AMS Research Community on Crossing Numbers and the 2017 MSRI Graduate Summer School on Soergel Bimodules. Last year she won the Georgia Tech Mathematics Department’s Outstanding Junior Award.

Her research track record is substantial; she has collaborated with several groups at Georgia Tech. An advisor describes conversations with her as “almost as if I was taking with a colleague.” Taylor with co-authors has submitted six papers and written four preprints on topics including combinatorics, tropical geometry and random graphs. She has presented her results at several conferences, including the 6th Polish Combinatorics Conference, the 2017 Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics, and the 2017 AMS Southeastern Sectional Meeting.

Taylor’s mentors are particularly impressed by her “fearless” approach to new material; she is described as one of “the most motivated students I’ve ever seen,” with “staggering potential.”

Response from Libby Taylor

I am very honored to receive the 2018 Alice T. Schafer prize, and I would like to thank the AWM for offering this prize and for their continued support of women in mathematics. I would like to express my gratitude to Tom Trotter, who first showed me the beauty of mathematics and made me fall in love with the subject. He has provided me with many opportunities to grow as a mathematician, and his infectious enthusiasm has been a continual inspiration. Without his support and encouragement, I certainly would not have made it as far as I have. I would also like to thank Matt Baker for his mentorship and for the many hours he has spent advising my research, answering questions, and providing valuable advice and encouragement. I owe a good deal to several professors at Georgia Tech—Jen Hom, Joe Rabinoff, and Larry Rolen in particular—who have regularly taken time out of their schedules to discuss math with me and help answer any questions I have had. Great thanks go to Padma Srinivasan for her friendship, support, and boundless enthusiasm for all areas of life; her love of number theory in particular has proved contagious, and she has enriched my life both mathematically and personally. Last, I would like to thank my parents for having been my first math teachers and for having challenged me to achieve all that I was capable of, both in academics and in life.

Runner-Up: Sameera Vemulapalli

Sameera Vemulapalli is a senior mathematics and computer science major at UC Berkeley. She is a relatively recent addition to the math community who has impressed mentors with her passion, talent, focus and motivation. They are amazed “to see how fast she grows while learning thoroughly, excelling in classes, and doing her own research”. She is curious, asks deep and sharp questions, and is “exceptional in demonstrating her depth and clarify of understanding through her talks”. Her mentors describe how pleasant their meetings are with her: “Advising Sameera on this project has been one of my most fun and productive REU advising experiences.”

Last summer she participated in the REU at Emory University. Working with another undergraduate student, she wrote a paper in arithmetic geometry that significantly extends recent work of several authors. The paper is of “superb quality” and “ serious professional piece that is expected to appear in a respected journal.” This project required Sameera to learn a broad range of background material very quickly – which she did very successfully and with a “relentless in her desire to understand the details of everything”.

Honorable Mention: Hui Xu

Hui Xu is a senior mathematics major at Amherst College. Her mentors have been “immediately impressed with her extremely strong work ethic, her natural mathematical talent, and deep reflection on the material.” She has been recognized with both the Amherst College Walker Prize in Mathematics Problem Solving 2016, for the top second-year students in mathematics, determined by an examination, and Amherst College Walker Award in Mathematics and Statistics 2017, awarded to student who demonstrated achievement, initiative, creativity, and perseverance in mathematics.

Hui has done research both at Amherst College and at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has worked on a range of projects with different advisors. For a project with other undergraduates she was described as “undoubtedly the leader in her summer research group”. This work has led to two publications and presentations at MathFest and the Women in Math in New England Conference. The presentation at MathFest was recognized with an MAA Outstanding Presentation Award. Hui’s mentors believe she has “great potential to become a leader in whatever field of mathematics she chooses to pursue”.

Honorable Mention: Sarah Fleming

Sarah Fleming is a senior mathematics major at Williams College. She is the recipient of an Erastus C. Benedict, Class of 1821, Prize in Mathematics at Williams, as well as the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship. Fleming has performed an impressive amount of original research as an undergraduate, having co-authored 4 papers which have been accepted or published. Her mentors describe her as having “superb mathematical talent” and being “unusually talented at finding the next steps in difficult proofs.”

Fleming has performed research at the interface of representation theory and number theory at the Emory University REU. The results of her investigations on finitary permutation groups have been described as “the first fundamental theorems” in a new area. Fleming has also performed research in commutative algebra at the Williams College REU, resulting in two publications.

Fleming’s mentors view her as having tremendous potential for a successful research career in mathematics. As her mentors state, she “approaches problems with great energy and creativity” and “it is a tremendous joy to work with a student with so much drive and passion for mathematics!”