Student’s Summer is a Deep Dive into Deep Math

Math and computer science student Will Victor is spending his summer immersed in Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity and learning to conduct mathematics research.

Victor, from Aiken, South Carolina, is working with math and physics Professor Hubert Bray to explore how geometry relates to general relativity. General relativity explains how gravity affects space and time — pulling on them to create curvature we can both predict and measure. Think of how a world map must have curved  latitude and longitude lines so that the representation of distances between spots on the curved surface of the globe are correct.

Victor is studying a class of objects called manifolds. It’s a field of math that describes the surface of complicated structures — anything from landmasses to a misshapen wad of clay — and it has practical applications in areas of mathematical physics such as black holes, dark matter and dark energy, the phenomena that Victor’s mentor studies.

“There’s a lot to be said about how fun it is to really know what the boundaries of the field are and to think about how we might attack answering the questions of what we don’t know,” Victor said.

This summer, he’s reading mathematical research and doing practice problems to learn the material.  “I work problems every day to prepare my mind for research,” Victor said. He also works with Bray’s graduate students to see how they are tackling their own research questions.

The rising senior is part of the PRUV Fellowship program, a 6-week research mentorship sponsored by the Department of Mathematics. After the summer, he will participate in independent studies and eventually write a senior thesis on his research or pursue graduation with distinction.

Victor said his math classes have been essential to preparing him for research by helping him solve math problems, learn theorems, improve proof techniques and get exposure to different types of problems.

“Having a depth and breadth of mathematical knowledge is essential to being able to conduct research in the field,” Victor said. “Learning mathematics consists of acquiring both a formal language and a toolbox of argumentative frameworks which allow a student to speak precisely about theoretical problems.”

Victor noted that the classes he has taken in algebraic structures and classical analysis have provided the framework for talking about any type of modern mathematical question.

Beyond his research, Victor is involved with the selective living group Round Table and a member of the juggling club. He also works with the Community Empowerment Fund, an organization that works with and fosters relationships with the working poor in Durham and Chapel Hill.

“Our goal is to empower people to eventually obtain stable housing and stable employment,” Victor said. “We provide an accountability source for them, so we meet and talk weekly.”

After graduation, Victor says he hopes to go to graduate school in math and continue doing math research. “I enjoy the field I’m in, but I haven’t seen enough math to necessarily know this is what I’m most interested in,” Victor said. “I want to get exposed to more before deciding what I will specialize in.”