Distinguished Professor Lawrence Fialkow
2009 has been a bumper year for the Department of Computer Science. Recently, Professor Lawrence Fialkow became the second member of our department to be appointed by the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York to the rank of SUNY Distinguished Professor.
The SUNY Distinguished Professorship is conferred upon individuals at SUNY's 34 state-operated campuses who have achieved international prominence and a distinguished reputation within the individual's chosen field. This distinction is attained through significant contributions to the research literature. The appointment constitutes a promotion to SUNY's highest academic rank conferred solely by the SUNY Board of Trustees at the system level.
We have asked Professor Fialkow to reflect on his career as a researcher starting from his earliest days as an undergraduate.
What did research mean to you when you were an undergraduate? Has its meaning changed over time?
During my years as an undergraduate at Brandeis University, the mathematics faculty included some very famous researchers and inspiring teachers, who taught our undergraduate courses at a graduate school level. There was no component for original research, but the hard work needed just to learn the material certainly instilled in me the kind of discipline that is helpful in research.
More than any other faculty member of the Computer Science Department you have involved students in research projects. What has it taught you? Them?
What it has taught me is that students can jump into an area and learn something completely new to them in a short period of time. The goal of these projects is to foster in students the realization that mathematics (and science in general) is something that can be discovered (or re-discovered) through experimentation. Modern software facilitates this experimentation by permitting students to tackle examples that could not have been handled in an earlier era. These examples illustrate existing theory and sometimes also inspire new theory. By requiring students to compose a written report about what they have learned, I believe I am helping students gain writing and thinking skills that will help them in their future endeavors.
You are teaching a new course - Discrete and Continuous Algorithms. How does this course differ from a traditional algorithms course?
The course is centered around programming in Mathematica. Mathematica permits one to write programs which implement the standard algorithms, but it also makes it easy to experiment with these programs, by varying the data using distributions built into Mathematica. Mathematica's graphics also helps in the analysis of algorithms, by permitting visual comparison of runtime performance. For the section of the course on induction, Mathematica's symbolic algebra permits students to prove the induction step of various summation formulas on the machine, computationally.
After receiving the Distinguished Professor Award from SUNY what is next?
During a sabbatical leave next semester, I hope to collaborate with some colleagues on research projects. I will then return in June to mentor a student project during the summer.