Profile photo of Anne Schilling
The Association for Women in Mathematics and the American Mathematical Society named Professor Anne Schilling, chair of the UC Davis Department of Mathematics, as the 2024 AWM-AMS Emmy Noether Lecturer. (Photo courtesy of Anne Schilling)

Math Professor Anne Schilling Honored as Emmy Noether Lecturer

A mathematics professor at the UC Davis College of Letters and Science has received a prestigious honor from the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and the American Mathematical Society (AMS). The organizations named Professor Anne Schilling, chair of the Department of Mathematics, as the 2024 AWM-AMS Emmy Noether Lecturer.

Established in 1980, the Emmy Noether Lectures “honor women who have made fundamental and sustained contributions to the mathematical sciences,” according to the AWM. Schilling will deliver her lecture at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Francisco Jan. 3-6, 2024.

“I am very honored to be named the Emmy Noether Lecturer for 2024,” Schilling said. “As a student, I was fascinated by Emmy Noether's ideas about the connection between symmetries and conservation laws in physics. It was also always inspiring to me that Emmy Noether followed her passion of doing mathematics despite all the obstacles that life presented to her. Given my long admiration for Emmy Noether, this makes it a very special honor.”

Schilling’s research interests include algebraic combinatorics, representation theory, mathematical physics and probability. She’s co-authored nearly 100 papers, a linear algebra textbook and two research books. She’s an AMS fellow and has been awarded distinguished honors like the Humboldt Research Fellowship and a fellowship from the Simons Foundation’s Mathematics and Physical Sciences division. In 2007, she was selected as a UC Davis Chancellor’s Fellow.

“In addition to her research accomplishments, Professor Schilling is an inspiring mentor and an extremely active leader in the research community,” the AWM wrote in a press release. “She has organized over 27 conferences and workshops in her field, most recently as the main organizer for the Formal Power Series and Algebraic Combinatorics conference, the largest annual conference in algebraic combinatorics known for highlighting contributions of junior mathematicians.”

Understanding the beauty of math in sand scribbles  

Schilling credits her interest in mathematics and physics to influences like her father, who was a physicist at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. From an early age, Schilling excelled academically, so much so that her high school recommended she skip a grade when she was 15 years old. Over the course of a summer, while vacationing on France’s Atlantic coast, she ingested a year’s worth of mathematics lessons to prepare for the coming academic year.

“My math teacher sent me this big stack of notes to go through,” Schilling recalled. “I started reading that and I asked my father a lot of questions. We didn’t bring paper, so he was just scribbling in the sand.”

As her father wrote the fundamentals of calculus in the sand, Schilling absorbed as much of the information as possible before the waves washed it away.

“That was when I really started to see the beauty in calculus and mathematics and how to understand it in a more theoretical light rather than simply computing,” Schilling said.

A way to describe reality

One of Schilling’s current research areas pertains to Markov chains, which are mathematical systems that track phenomena as they shift from one state to another. The information is then used to create probability models.

Schilling and her colleagues recently developed a unified theory for finite Markov chains. The theory enables researchers to compute the stationary distribution of finite Markov chains.

To illustrate the concept, Schilling described a drawer of clothing.

“In the morning, you pick out your favorite t-shirt, wear it, wash it and then put it back at the top of the drawer,” she said. “Eventually, if you do that, all your popular t-shirts will end up at the top of your stack.”

Using Schilling’s unified theory of finite Markov chains, one could predict the typical distribution of the shirts in the drawer. But the theory doesn’t just apply to clothing. It can be applied to a host of other phenomena, including weather.

“Underlying my motivation is always a desire to understand the world and describe it in a way that makes it easier to predict what will happen in the future,” Schilling said. 

For more information on the Emmy Noether Lecture series, visit the Association for Women in Mathematics website.

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