SF State News {University Communications}

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Cheung awarded NSF CAREER grant

July 8, 2010 -- Assistant Professor of Mathematics Yitwah Cheung is the latest SF State faculty member to be awarded a prestigious CAREER grant by the National Science Foundation.

A photo of Assistant Professor of Mathematics Yitwah Cheung.

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Yitwah Cheung.

Cheung was born in Denmark to parents from Hong Kong and attended an English language school. His trilingual childhood created barriers as he grew older. So he turned to math. "I really liked math," Cheung said. "It was the same no matter what language I was talking in. That kind of clicked for me."

Cheung entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his undergraduate work planning to double major in physics and math, but by the time he graduated, he realized math was the best fit. "Throughout all my physics courses, I found that the thing that really interested me was the mathematics," Cheung said.

He joined the faculty at SF State in 2005, and his research focuses on producing combinatorial models for dynamical systems. Examples of common dynamical systems include weather patterns or motions of planets around the solar system. Cheung’s work attempts to form combinatorial models to better understand those systems using mathematics, physics and statistics, while also taking into account chaos and other variables.

"You're working with a mathematical problem, but that doesn't mean your problems are solved," Cheung said. "Theoretically everything can be answered, but in practice it could be very hard."

The CAREER grant is the National Science Foundation's most prestigious award for early-career faculty. The CAREER program supports the career-development activities of faculty, who are selected on the basis of creative career development plans that effectively integrate research and education.

The $400,000 grant will allow Cheung to interact with collaborators, while also providing more educational opportunities for students at SF State. He plans to invite experts to SF State for at least one workshop, while also developing a new graduate-level class around advances in understanding of dynamical systems.

"The class will help students understand what is going on at the frontiers of these topics," Cheung said. "It's difficult to present state-of-the-art mathematics to graduate students, so we're going to design a course on this topic."

Cheung is the latest SF State faculty member to receive a CAREER grant. Currently nine SF State faculty have active CAREER grants, including Diana Chu, Kimberly Tanner, Mary Leech, Rahul Singh, Teaster Baird Jr., and Andrew Ichimura.

-- Michael Bruntz


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