Math Department Hosts GPOTS 2012

Math Department Hosts GPOTS 2012
Conference Drew 127 Participants from 17 Countries


The Department of Mathematics at University of Houston hosted the 32nd Annual Great Plains Operator Theory Symposium (GPOTS), May 30-June 3. The five-day conference featured both invited speakers and contributed talks on topics in operator algebras and operator theory.

“The people attending GPOTS ranged from major researchers in the field, to junior faculty eager to keep up on the latest results and present their work in front of an international audience, to graduate students eager to soak it all in,” said Vern Paulsen, professor of mathematics at UH and a member of the GPOTS 2012 Organizing Committee.

Though GPOTS got its start as a meeting of operator theorists from Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, it has grown into an international conference. This year, 127 participants attended representing 17 countries.

“We were proud to give this international group a glimpse of University of Houston and the city of Houston,” Paulsen said. “The event helps build academic ties and collaborations.”

The meeting featured a number of world-class experts who introduced participants to the leading edges of research in the various areas of operator theory. The term, operator theory, refers to many areas of math that have grown out of the need to understand infinite dimensional analogues of linear algebra.

GPOTS featured 17 plenary speakers and nearly 70 contributed talks. Presentations focused on topics such as the mathematical questions arising from the desire to build computers that run on quantum mechanical principles, the mathematics that underlies modern theories of signal processing and data compression, and applications to Connes’ theory of noncommutative geometry.

Speakers of note included Vaughan Jones, distinguished professor of mathematics at Vanderbilt University, and Matthew Hastings, associate professor of physics at Duke University.

Jones received the Fields Medal in 1990 for his discovery that the mathematics used in quantum mechanics could be used to solve many open problems about the classification of knots. The Fields Medal, one of the greatest honors a mathematician can receive, is given only once every four years for all areas of mathematics; there is no Nobel Prize for math.

Hastings worked for the quantum computing team at Microsoft prior to joining Duke. His research interests include quantum computing, condensed matter physics, quantum information theory, and mathematical physics. His work could lead to ways to improve computer simulations used to study the properties of physical materials, especially at low temperatures where quantum effects are important.

GPOTS is only held at universities that can provide affordable dormitory housing as an option; this feature makes it easier for graduate students to attend. “It is GPOTS tradition for some of the famous faculty to stay in the dorms to be closer to the students,” Paulsen said. “Some of my closest friends and collaborators are people that I first met while staying in the dormitories at a GPOTS conference.”

GPOTS 2012 was supported by the National Science Foundation and UH’s Department of Mathematics, and in part by the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications’ Participating Institution Program.

- Kathy Major, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics