The world, as defined by polynomials

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Izzet Coskun

Izzet Coskun: as an algebraic geometer, he describes the world mathematically. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services

That concept is the heart of the work that Izzet Coskun does everyday.

Coskun, professor of mathematics, statistics and computer science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is an algebraic geometer.

Most of the things we see are defined by polynomials, or mathematical equations, Coskun explained.

“For instance if you drop a ball, the way its speed relates to the time it takes to bounce can be expressed as a polynomial,” he said.

Examples of the kind of problem where polynomials might be used include understanding the range of movement of a robot arm or ways to make your credit card secure.

“Computer science, evolutionary biology, physics, cryptography — almost everything we do in life is governed by polynomial equations,” Coskun said.

“I study the geometry of spaces that have a lot of symmetries,” he explained.

“For instance, a sphere is a fairly symmetric space because you can rotate to any point from any other point. Such spaces are called homogeneous spaces, which just means that all the points look the same.”

Those symmetries are the key to simplifying equations and making them solvable.

Coskun’s insight into this mathematical world has resulted in honors like the National Science Foundation CAREER Award and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Award.

Coskun did his graduate studies at Harvard and a post-doctoral fellowship at MIT, where he worked with several faculty now at UIC.

“The math department here at UIC is very strong,” he said. “Our department head, Lawrence Ein, is one of the leading researchers in my field and I knew other members of the faculty, so I was attracted here.”

When Coskun visited Chicago, he really liked the city.

“Chicago was one of the biggest draws,” he said, his enthusiasm undeterred by winter.

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