Math major wins national research award

UAA math student Ben Nolting, 23, recently received a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and will spend his summer at Penn State University in researching changes in Lake Erie’s fish population.

“This is a very big achievement for a math student to get this award,” said Kamal Narang, a UAA math professor.

More than 1,000 science, engineering and math students from around the country were nominated for this year’s 320 Goldwater scholarships. Only 27 went to math majors.

“It’s even greater that he is from UAA. Our students can achieve the highest possible honors as in any place else,” Narang said.

Nolting’s interests are expansive, ranging from religion, astronomy and physics, to mountain biking, cross country skiing and reading history.

“He’s really passionate about learning,” said Sarah Piper, a fellow math lab monitor. “He does (research) because he really loves to learn, and if anybody deserves that scholarship it’s him.”

At Penn State University’s Institute for Mathematical Biology this summer, Nolting will try to model changes in Lake Erie’s fish population with an equation.

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“When mathematicians try to model nature with equations, they run into trouble because nature usually does not behave in a linear manner,” Nolting wrote in an e-mail. “Computer scientists have tried to get around solving nonlinear equations by using numerical simulations. These simulations only provide snapshots of a system’s behavior… Mathematicians are trying to find a method that gives more than just a few snapshots of certain solutions, and instead reveals the whole interconnected structure of the system being analyzed.”

Nolting was awarded $7,500 as part of the scholarship program honoring Senator Barry M. Goldwater. The scholarship, designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in math, natural science and engineering, is the premier undergraduate award of its type.

“The really cool thing about this award is that it recognizes this department at UAA,” Nolting said while he tutored students at the math lab in the Social Sciences Building. “UAA is fortunate to have a group of extremely talented professors. It also shows we have a ton of really strong students in the math department.”

Working with math professor Len Smiley during his independent study program, Nolting dove into the realm of pure mathematics – confirming math.

“He didn’t take it for granted, it’s his nature to check everything,” Smiley said as he opened one of the many notebooks full of neatly organized numbers and symbols, demonstrating Nolting’s research work. “He has an uncompromising intellectual tenacity, a higher calling.”