A Taste of the 2012 Joint Mathematics Awards and Prizes


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The January 2012 Joint Mathematics Meetings featured an awards presentation in recognition of many outstanding mathematicians, educators and authors. The prizes are awarded by the AMS (American Mathematical Society), the Mathematical Association of America, the Association for Women in Mathematics, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

With 33 individual recipients of 19 awards, certificates or prizes, there is simply too much material to fully report. This selection of highlights, with a focus on communications awards, gives a taste of the awards.

Professor of Statistics and Mathematics Persi Diaconis, picture by Persi Diaconis

Professor of Statistics and Mathematics Persi Diaconis, picture by Persi Diaconis

Persi Diaconis Wins the 2012 Levi L. Conant Prize for Best Expository Paper

Persi Diaconis received the Levi L. Conant Prize for an article written for the Bulletin of the American Mathematics Society. Titled “The Markov chain Monte Carlo revolution”, this paper explains the use of Markov chains in modern probability and statistics. Dr. Diaconis was praised for making this article “readable” and “accessible,” with illustrations and numerous examples of the applications for this branch of mathematics. Diaconis has a Ph.D. in mathematical statistics and has previously been the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

2012 Math Awards for Exposition

Decoded Science interviewed Allyn Jackson of the AMS to explain more about the awards for exposition.

Decoded Science: Persi Diaconis is cited for exposition rather than math discovery for his article The Markov chain Monte Carlo revolution. I note that many of the awards go for exposition, or teaching, rather than for discovery or specific papers. Why is it so important to recognize these contributions?

Allyn Jackson: “Exposition has become increasingly important as mathematics has become more and more specialized.  It is extremely difficult for a researcher in one area of mathematics to understand what’s happening in a different area.  And yet, many of the most exciting breakthroughs have come through connections between seemingly disparate areas of mathematics.

Finally, excellent exposition helps introduce newcomers to an area – these newcomers might be students starting off in mathematics, or they might be people looking to change research areas.

Concerning teaching: In the past couple of decades, the mathematical community, particularly in the United States, has become very aware of the importance of teaching…Many top mathematicians (such as Bill McCallum, who got the AMS Award for Distinguished Public Service) have become deeply involved in educational issues and have shown by example the good mathematicians can do by improving their own teaching at the collegiate level and also by assisting math instruction in the schools.

Top quality exposition helps mathematicians and these connections to be made.  It also helps to build the culture of mathematics by widening and enriching the knowledge of researchers in the field.

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