Graduate professor receives international award

Henryk Iwaniec celebrates what he calls his "personal lifetime achievement award” after receiving the Shaw Prize in Mathematical Sciences, an international award honoring scholars who have pioneered significant breakthroughs in their field, for his work developing fundamental tools in number theory.

The first word that came into Iwaniec’s head when thought he about the award was “luck.” The graduate professor in the Department of Mathematics saw it as recognition of his lifetime work and achievements.

The award is not a lifetime achievement award, but instead given to academicians for specific results in the field of Mathematical Sciences, to be recognized as a contributor to the progress in Number Theory Research by the international mathematical community. Predictably, it is a very high honor, he said. 

Iwaniec shares this year’s award in the category of Mathematical Sciences with Gerd Faltings, a German mathematician who also did separate work with number theory. The two men were honored in Hong Kong on Sept. 24.

Iwaniec’s love for math, which was provoked by the type of thinking in mathematics, came early on in life while growing up and attending high school in Poland. He said he was not led to the subject from household influence, but was encouraged by his twin brother, who also went on to be a successful mathematician.

Iwaniec and his brother went to a technical high school, where both were very successful. But it was not anyone else’s influence besides Iwaniec's that got him to follow through with a career in arithmetic.

“You do mathematics because you love it, not for the business of it," he said.

That love turned into years of hard work that came to fruition with Iwaniec’s advancement in his research of number theory, a very broad topic in math, he said.

He also conducted research on automorphic form, a well-behaved function in harmonic analysis and number theory. Iwaniec wrote two books on the subject in 1995 and 1997, respectively, but said the topic is not as familiar or the most inviting to the general public.

His most current research was co-founded with Professor John Friedman from the University of Toronto. Iwaniec said that he very much enjoys working with others when conducting research, either systematically or occasionally. He continued to explain that he is not alone with this sentiment and the goal of modern mathematics is to bring people together.

It is for the same reason that Iwaniec does not just invite students to join him on his research, but also encourages their own research projects, and said that the sense of support is a large part of the Department of Mathematics. Iwaniec spoke of the kind and supportive relationship he has had with his colleagues his whole career at Rutgers University.

“When I won the award everyone was so happy," he said. 

Iwaniec’s colleagues in the Department of Mathematics have always been very supportive. And when he won the award, he said that people told him that this was great for all of them.

Iwaniec said the University administration has also been very supportive of him. They let him teach his own special topics graduate course, he said, and this year it is "Special Topics in Number Theory."

Rutgers has also been a resource for securing research grants to help fund Iwaniec’s research. He has been able to plan conferences and send students abroad with the assistance of the University.

Students are also taking notice of Iwaniec’s success.

“It's amazing. Rutgers actually has quite a few amazing mathematicians,” said Jaroor Modi, a School of Arts and Science first-year student.

Modi is also a transfer student studying mathematics and said that that makes it even more exciting to him and speak to the strength of the department that he wanted to join.

A highly acclaimed professor will not influence his class choice during scheduling, said Hamza Chaudry, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

“(But) that being said, a professor's status will make me more excited for a class, and I will spend more time studying and trying to pick their minds,” Chaudry said.

Modi and Chaudry both said hearing about a professor’s success with research inspires and solidifies their interests in it. Chaudry has been doing research with the University since his first semester and Modi is excited to collaborate with all of the great minds that are in the student body.

Iwaniec said he is not sure where his research will take him next.

“It’s hard to predict ... there’s no shortage of problems to work on,” he said. "I have not reached my dream problems yet and mathematics research can take you anywhere."

What now excites Iwaniec about his research echoes what introduced him to the subject when he was in high school — the challenges, the critical thinking and the innovation of problem solving.

“I really love challenges, and I see a lot of beautiful machinery being applied to study problems in higher arithmetic. Mathematicians may see the beauty of this statement," he said.

Brittany Gibson

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