June 2, 2017

Award Winners Honored at Annual Ceremony

Chang-Hsin Lee (left) and Timothy Michaels

Five students were honored for outstanding achievements at the recent Department of Mathematics annual award ceremony.

The 2017 B.F. Bryant Prize for Excellence in Teaching was shared by graduate students Chang-Hsin Lee and Timothy Michaels. The award recognizes graduate teaching assistants who have demonstrated concern for and accomplishments in teaching, qualities that characterized the career of former Professor Billy Bryant. In announcing the award, Associate Professor Alex Powell cited the outstanding ratings Lee and Michaels received on student evaluations.

The Bjarni Jónsson Prize for Research was awarded jointly to Colin Klaus and Yunxiang Ren. The prize was established in honor of former Distinguished Professor Bjarni Jónsson and is awarded annually to one or more graduate students for exceptional research in mathematics and outstanding research potential.

Klaus’ research interests are in an area of biomathematics known as visual transduction. Visual transduction is the process by which photons of light get transduced into electrical pulses to be communicated to the brain. His work involves both applied and pure math components.

(Left to right) Denis Osin, Colin Klaus, Yunxiang Ren, and Vaughan Jones

“In addition to his interest in mathematical biology, Colin was also fascinated with classical analysis issues such as local behavior of degenerate and singular parabolic equations,” said Klaus’ advisor, Centennial Professor of Mathematics and Professor of Molecular Biology and Biophysics Emmanuele DiBenedetto. “Very few people come to mathematical biology with an expertise in numerical analysis, classical analysis, biochemistry, biophysics, and most of all, the culture of a truly interdisciplinary mindset.”

Klaus is co-author of two papers, both of which have been accepted for publication, one in the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell and the other in Advances in Calculus of Variations. He will receive his Ph.D. in August 2017 and has accepted a postdoctoral position at the Mathematics Bioscience Institute at Ohio State University.

Yunxiang Ren’s research interests are in two different areas: planar algebras and unitary representations of Thompson’s groups. “He solved a problem that I had worked on quite hard but was unable to solve and determined the structure of a special planar algebra related to the Peterson graph,” said his advisor, Stevenson Distinguished Professor Vaughan Jones. “He also found an elegant reproof of the Golan-Sapir structure of what I call the ‘oriented’ Thompson group.”

Ren is sole author of a paper that has been submitted to the Journal of Algebra and co-author of a paper that has been submitted to Quantum Topology. He will receive his Ph.D. in August 2017 and has accepted a postdoctoral position at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

(Left to right) John Rafter, Michael Montgomery, and Richard Larsen


The Richard J. Larsen Award for Achievement in Undergraduate Mathematics was awarded to Michael Montgomery. Established in honor of Professor Emeritus Richard Larsen, the award is presented each spring to the senior math major judged by the faculty to have excelled in all aspects of undergraduate mathematics.

Director of Undergraduate Studies John Rafter noted that the department’s honors track math major requires seven courses beyond the core courses. “Michael took 17 courses, including all the core graduate courses,” Rafter said.

Montgomery will join the Vanderbilt Ph.D. program in mathematics in the fall of 2017.

The Department of Mathematics is proud to honor these accomplished award winners.