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>  News Releases >   2008 >   March

Dartmouth math professor wins top fellowship

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 03/18/08 • Rebecca Bailey • (603) 646-3661

Craig Sutton
Craig Sutton (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Craig Sutton, a Dartmouth College assistant professor of mathematics who specializes in differential geometry, has been awarded a prestigious research fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation for the 2008-2009 academic year.

The award, a Career Enhancement Fellowship, offers pre-tenure assistance and mentoring for junior faculty from underrepresented groups, as well as for those committed to promoting cross-racial understanding. The program gives recipients a one-year paid sabbatical and includes a monetary stipend as well as a stipend for research, travel, and publication. Past Dartmouth winners of this fellowship have included Darren Ranco, assistant professor of environmental sciences and Native American studies and Tanalís Padilla, assistant professor of history (both in 2006); Rosa Orellana, assistant professor of mathematics (2003); and Steve Swayne, associate professor of music (2002).

The son of a middle school science teacher, Sutton entered Yale University thinking he would pursue engineering but was drawn to pure math. He became interested in the field of differential geometry after attending a program at the Geometry Center in Minneapolis, Minn., the summer before his senior year. After obtaining a doctorate in math from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Sutton was a visiting assistant professor at Dartmouth in 2001 and a lecturer and National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, where he twice received the Good Teaching Award from the mathematics department. He joined the Dartmouth faculty in 2005.

In addition to geometry, Sutton is also interested in finance; he will be teaching the department's first course in mathematical finance and will play a key role in the department's upcoming new mathematical finance minor, said Mathematics department Chair Daniel Rockmore. "Craig is a terrific young mathematician," Rockmore said. "In him, we were lucky enough to get someone who not only works in pure mathematics but who also gives us more fingers in the applied mathematics world."

Sutton also has been deeply involved in educational outreach. He instructed disadvantaged middle school students at the Horizons Summer Camp in Connecticut, encouraged junior high students to pursue mathematics and science through the King-Chavez-Parks Program at the University of Michigan, and mentored students in mathematics at Ypsilanti West Middle School as a HOPE tutor.

At Dartmouth, Sutton is involved with Dartmouth's E.E. Just Program, which seeks to encourage students who are members of underrepresented minority groups to pursue careers in the sciences. The program, open to all Dartmouth students, is named in honor of the renowned African American cell biologist, Ernest Everett Just, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1907.

Sutton also hopes to help build Dartmouth's outreach to primary and secondary school students in this region and beyond, where students encounter wide disparities in educational opportunities. "By participating in various educational outreach programs and observing my father's own efforts in this area, I have been inspired to contemplate the role our nation's universities could play in closing the existing opportunity gap that exists in our education system - a gap that often cleaves along economic and racial lines," Sutton said. "Children are inherently curious and it's incumbent upon us to provide an environment in which that energy, imagination and sense of wonder can flourish. By finding creative ways to share with underprivileged children the vast resources and inspirational atmosphere institutions such as Dartmouth have nurtured, our universities could set an example of what could be if our nation puts its mind to it. As I continue to settle into the Dartmouth community I look forward to participating in helping Dartmouth 'be the change we wish to see.' "

For more than a quarter-century, the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship supported doctoral studies, preparing some 18,000 men and women for leadership in education, government, business, and the arts. In its current programs, working with both individuals and institutions, the Foundation continues to promote excellence and opportunity in education, from K-12 to the Ph.D.

Topics in Differential Geometry

The primary objects of study in differential geometry are Riemannian manifolds. Examples of Riemannian manifolds include smooth surfaces (e.g., spheres, cylinders and tori) and their higher-dimensional analogues. Much like a violin string or a drum head, a Riemannian manifold has natural frequencies at which it will vibrate. This list of frequencies is known as the spectrum of the Riemannian manifold. Of particular interest to Sutton is understanding the extent to which the geometry (e.g., volume, dimension, curvature and lengths of geodesics) of a Riemannian manifold is encoded in its spectrum (or "sound"). This is the so-called inverse spectral problem, which was posed as, "Can one hear the shape of a drum?" by Mark Kac in his famous 1966 article of the same title. In addressing this and other questions, Sutton makes extensive use of Lie groups and representation theory. Lie groups - named after the 19th century Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie (pronounced "Lee") - are important in geometry, harmonic analysis, physics, robotics, and computer vision because they serve to describe the symmetries of various structures.

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