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April 26, 2017

George Pappas: By the numbers

April 26, 2017

George Pappas is a professor of mathematics in the College of Natural Science.  He is a world-class mathematician, doing leading-edge research in number theory and arithmetic algebraic geometry, and serving as an outstanding teacher and mentor to students and faculty members. He has pioneered research in properties of Shimura varieties and Galois modules that can have applications to data encryption. As a result of his work, the number theory and algebraic geometry groups at MSU have risen in national prominence.

I have liked math since I was a kid. While working on my doctorate at Columbia University, I did not know what research area to specialize in, but finally decided on number theory.

I had always liked number theory, in part, because it is a fundamental math topic. It is the first thing you think about when you think about math. Now there are new tools to solve number theory problems, and that’s exciting.

I am fortunate the National Science Foundation has continuously supported me as a principal investigator since 1993.  I am currently the PI on an NSF Focused Research Group grant on “Chern Classes in Iwasawa Theory.”  An FRG award is the most prestigious NSF funding available to pure mathematicians.

The grant deals with fundamental questions about groups of symmetries of algebraic equations. In the 1950s, Kenkichi Iwasawa, a Japanese mathematician, began a new approach to the study of such equations by considering their behavior in infinite families. Our proposal has to do with refinements of his conjectures. 

As a teacher, my classes have spanned from first-year calculus to advanced graduate courses. In addition, I have supervised four doctoral students since becoming a full professor in 2007, as well as four postdoctoral fellows. I also make presentations to high school and middle school students, encouraging them to enter the field of mathematics.

I don't need any external motivation to continue my work. It’s fun to think about this stuff. I really like it.