Newswise — BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Vladimir Touraev, a Russian high school math teacher in the mid-1970s who 30 years later would become the first named professor in the Indiana University Department of Mathematics, has been awarded over $2.7 million to establish a new mathematics laboratory in Russia.
The award -- one of 42 megagrants awarded by the Russian government this year to scientists from around the world to conduct research in the country -- will allow a recognized leader in the field of low-dimensional topology to establish a scientific center based in Chelyabinsk, Russia. The new center will include about 20 students and an equal number of experienced mathematicians.
Kevin Zumbrun, chair of the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Mathematics, said the award highlights the quality of Touraev’s work over the years and creates new opportunities for collaboration between IU scientists and their counterparts in Russia.
“The department is both delighted that Vladimir’s excellence is being recognized at this scale and excited about the possibilities this raises for new international collaboration at a number of different levels: undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and faculty,” Zumbrun said.
Touraev will be based out of Chelyabinsk State University, but about half of the people he will work with and fund will be based in Moscow, Novosibirsk and St. Petersburg. He’ll be funded to organize and operate the new laboratory through 2016 and will have an opportunity to renew funding for an additional two years.
Touraev will continue in his role as the Boucher Professor of Mathematics at IU, spending summers in Russia.
“The aim of the megagrant is to encourage the development of modern mathematics in Russia: I bring the expertise, they bring the resources and, most importantly, the students and scientists,” Touraev said. “The grant will support these undergrads, grad students, postdocs and experienced mathematicians financially as a complement to their basic salaries and stipends from their home institutions, while also supporting their travel, workshops, conferences and invitations to foreign specialists.”
Touraev’s expertise is in low-dimensional topology, a branch of topology -- the study of the properties of geometric shapes that are unaltered by elastic distortions -- that looks at two-, three- and four-dimensional structures such as knots, braids, tangles, links, surfaces and manifolds. Generally, wherever research involves continuity, equilibria, stability or dynamics, topology comes into play. Areas of modern theoretical physics like string theory, improvements in complex networks like neuron interactions and social networks, and movement planning in automated robots are all areas where topology is relevant.
But Touraev said low-dimensional topology would not be the only focus of the new research center.
“While I will try to promote some directions close to my work, I expect the established researchers to pursue their own lines of research,” he said. “Quantum topology has many aspects including connections with low-dimensional topology, representations of algebras, category theory, mathematical physics. Let us just say that at this stage, the grant creates considerable opportunities for mathematicians working in these fields and excellent possibilities for collaboration.”
A permanent U.S. resident with a dual citizenship in Russia and France, where he worked for 17 years as research director with the French National Center of Scientific Research in Strasbourg, Touraev said the first person he invited to visit the new center was his former Ph.D. advisor Oleg Viro, a Russian topologist and professor at Stony Brook University who is also a senior researcher at Russia’s Steklov Institute of Mathematics, where Touraev received his Ph.D.
Touraev said he already has or will soon extend invitations to a number of other scientists in the U.S., including current and former colleagues of the IU Department of Mathematics.