Proof Positive

Emory math majors earn premier scholarship--two years running

Ann Borden

Singularly capable: Ethan Alwaise (above, on right) was named a 2016 Goldwater Scholar; Noam Kantor (above, on left) was selected as a Goldwater Scholar in 2015.

For the second consecutive year, the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences, and engineering has been awarded to an Emory College math major.

Ethan Alwaise was named a 2016 Goldwater Scholar; Noam Kantor was selected as a Goldwater Scholar in 2015. Both students are seniors focused on number theory, the branch of mathematics that works to discover interesting and unexpected relationships between different sorts of numbers and to prove that these relationships are true.

A Woodruff Scholar, Kantor began taking graduate mathematics courses as a sophomore and had the unusual honor of publishing a paper as an undergraduate, on shapes called elliptic curves, with Jeremy Rouse at Wake Forest University. Kantor will earn dual bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 2017 and intends to pursue a doctoral degree in math.

“I want to continue thinking about number theory and geometry,” says Kantor. “Elliptic curves are a great example of why I love math: they combine number theory and geometry, and they are very important in the modern tech world.”

Alwaise, a Prentice Miller Scholar, is also interested in number theory but plans to work in an area known as moonshine. The field is at the interface of pure mathematics and physics, says Ken Ono, the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Mathematics and internationally recognized number theorist who has worked with Alwaise since his first year.

“Ethan is a very careful, methodical student,” Ono says. “He has very high personal standards, and this self-confidence will surely pay huge dividends in the future.” Alwaise says the appeal of his work is finding the complex physics implications to the seemingly simple calculations.

“Questions in number theory are often very simple to state, but their proofs involve sophisticated machinery,” Alwaise says. “This hidden depth is one of my favorite aspects of the subject.”

Congress established the Goldwater Scholarship to honor the late US Senator Barry Goldwater, with the aim of identifying students of outstanding ability and promise, and encouraging them to pursue advanced study and research careers. Scholars receive up to $7,500 per year, until they earn their undergraduate degrees, to go toward the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

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