Duke Today
Three undergraduate students whose research shows their deep expertise on number theory, 19^{th} century American history and analysis of poetry were honored with Faculty Scholar Awards, the highest honor bestowed by university faculty on undergraduates.
Presented through the Academic Council, the 2024 winners are Sarah Konrad, Arielle Stern and Marie-Hélène Tomé. The award was established to highlight students who are likely to pursue a scholarly career and already have established a record of research and independent study that has impressed their faculty mentors.
The three were selected by a faculty committee chaired by Sheryl Broverman, professor of the practice of biology. The committee received 27 strong nominations from departments across the undergraduate program.
“As always this is a very challenging process, as so many of our students are doing exceptional, original research,” Broverman said. “The three Faculty Scholar recipients all impressed the committee with their in-depth knowledge of a field and their ability to communicate it to non-experts in the field. From explaining the world via math proofs or the human condition via poetry to the history of slaveholding by women, the committee was deeply impressed by Marie- Hélène, Arielle and Sarah.”
Sarah Konrad, Department of History
With an interest in both history and law, Sarah Konrad has already produced a collection of original research that explores how the law affects social, cultural and political aspects of public life. Like a good historian, she has written several complicated portraits of women in 19th century America, living with limited legal rights but still finding ways to exercise power, and affecting issues of race.
One large project was close to home. Working with history professors Thavolia Glymph and Robert Korstad as part of the Duke Institutional History Project, Konrad dove into the early days of Trinity College to explore the relationships between the wives of the college’s Board of Trustees and how they benefited from the institution of slavery.
Konrad found close family ties between the board wives and their husbands, “creating a familial connection that pervaded the bonds of the academic administration,” she said. These ties were strengthened by slavery, as the wives often brought enslaved people with them into the marriage, which grew the economic status of their husbands. The research will be included as a chapter in a forthcoming book from the institutional history project published by Duke University Press.
In a second research project, under the supervision of professors Juliana Barr and Sarah Deutsch, Konrad explored stories of Cherokee women who owned enslaved people. She will complete this next year as her honors thesis.
“Sarah Konrad is an extraordinary scholar – an indefatigable researcher, creative both in how she ferrets out sources and how she makes sense of them, as well in the even more important area of how she comes up with and formulates a question,” said Sarah Deutsch, professor emerita of history. “Her excitement is contagious.”
Konrad says she hopes to continue this research following graduation in 2025 and will seek a joint J.D./Ph.D. degree. “With lifelong research efforts, I hope to contribute to historical and legal scholarship that bridges strict divisions of past and present to show how law has been formed by historical processes, and yet it can still be used as a tool of justice,” she said.
Arielle Stern – Department of English
To Arielle Stern, poetry is the place where the known and the unknown are placed together, where words “function to elucidate hidden and incomprehensible meanings, but do not erase the murkiness of the shadows that linger.”
That richness of meaning and language has long attracted Stern and has led to several research projects praised by Duke faculty members. In a graduate-level course on 20^{th} century French theory, Stern considered historical memory in post-WWII poetry, particularly related to the Holocaust. The paper, which she was invited to present at a research symposium, explored ethical and literary questions of how to write about atrocity.
“Intrigued by the pervasiveness of absence in the aftermath of WWII, I was compelled to probe deeper into the question of how to portray extreme erasure, to both preserve memory and to acknowledge the gaps that constitute the difficulty of such a task,” she said.
An English and Romance Studies double major, Stern also has focused on Wallace Stevens and studying his rich poetry through the lens of Stevens’ interest in the French linguistic and philosophical traditions. A poet herself, this study has also benefited her own writings.
“The first of Arielle’s numerous critical gifts is the quality of her alertness to the poem,” said Joseph Donahue, professor of the practice of English, who directed some of her study of Stevens. “She approaches the page with allegiance to her already deeply schooled sophistication, but, always first, she sees and hears for herself what is going on in the poem and finds her own way to imaginatively enter into the world the text proposes.
“She expertly moves into unfamiliar terrain and makes it her own, even when the terrain is most forbidding, and so her interest in the poetics of death, in the great tradition in world literature of poetry written at the threshold of the abyss, at the absolute limit of what can be known and felt. Where else would such a curious and capable imagination as that possessed by Arielle Stern be spending its time?”
After graduation, Stern hopes to study for a Ph.D. in English Literature focusing on 20th and 21st century poetry and poetics. “The study of poetry itself is that of making sense of the
unknown and the purposefully obscured, an exercise that rejects the denial of erasure and brings absence to light, which I intend to do in my future pursuits, both when writing poetry and in a scholarly career,” Stern said.
Marie-Hélène Tomé – Department of Mathematics
In number theory, L-functions package important arithmetic information about number fields, a generalization of the integers. L-functions, of which the Riemann zeta function is a particular example, are the subject of many of the most challenging unresolved conjectures in mathematics.
This year, Marie-Hélène Tomé effectively answered an open L-function conjecture made in 1920 by the German Erich Hecke.
Tomé is a recipient of a 2024 Goldwater Scholarship, a nationally competitive award for students in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. Part of her recognition came from her work on Hecke L-functions and their special values. Under the guidance of Professor Ken Ono at the University of Virginia, she studied the work of Japanese mathematician Takuro Shintani, who provides formulas for the class number, an important arithmetic invariant associated with a number field.
Shintani’s formulas answer Hecke’s conjecture for biquadratic extensions (n = 2). Building on Shintani’s work, Tomé derived finite formulas for relative quadratic extensions of fields F of arbitrary degree n over the rational numbers, together with methods to explicitly compute the inputs to these formulas. Her work gives an effective affirmative answer to Hecke’s conjecture for arbitrary degree n for a certain class of extensions. Her solutions presented a novel method to make the difficult calculations involved in the conjecture and opens possibilities for the solution of other similar mathematical questions.
This work was presented at the 2024 Joint Mathematics Meetings and resulted in a single author paper that will soon appear in the Journal of Number Theory. While Tomé has long been interested in mathematics, she became interested in number theory while taking abstract algebra with Duke Professor Robert Calderbank. A guest lecture by Professor Lillian Pierce piqued her interest in the rich intersection of algebraic and analytic number theory. While participating in the 2023 REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) in number theory at the University of Virginia, her interest grew into a deep passion.
In addition, Tomé has completed an independent study with Lillian Pierce, professor of mathematics, on the Weil-Deligne bound, which has diverse applications in analytic number theory. Under the guidance of Professor Pierce, Tomé wrote an expository paper on Schmidt’s proof of the Weil-Deligne bound. She will complete an honors thesis on topics in algebraic number theory with Professor Samit Dasgupta.
“As mathematics students become independent mathematicians, they learn to be very skeptical, in the best possible sense,” Pierce said. “Mathematicians look to understand the precise reasons that a proof method works, both to make sure that all the details are correct, and also to understand the limitations of the method. Understanding these limitations is critical to being able to go onward with original research.
“Marie-Hélène worked to learn this material with the skeptical style of an independent mathematician. She left no stone unturned while she studied multiple research papers (in multiple languages) to develop a complete understanding of this important result.”
After graduation, Tomé intends to pursue a Ph.D. in pure mathematics and conduct research at the intersection of algebraic and analytic number theory. She hopes to become a professor of mathematics at a research university where she can combine her love of teaching with her passion for research.
“My research experiences in number theory crystallized my career goal of becoming a number theorist,” she said. “My natural curiosity has both informed my previous research in mathematics and the mathematician I hope to become. As a mathematician, I see myself continually learning new mathematics to weave diverse areas into my research and apply techniques from other fields of mathematics to solve questions in number theory. Something beautiful and mysterious lying within the mathematics of number theory calls to me, and I cannot refuse that call.”