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Melrose Wins Guggenheim

By Brian Rosenberg
Editor In Chief

Professor of Mathematics Richard B. Melrose became one of this year's 149 Guggenheim Fellows earlier this month. Melrose was granted the award for his work on the analysis and geometry of manifolds with corners.

The average amount of the fellowships was $26,400, but only individual fellowship winners can release the amount of their award, according to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Melrose is on leave in the Australian state of Tasmania this semester and could not be reached for comment.

"He's one of the few Tasmanians to make big splash on the world scene. The only other one that I know of is Errol Flynn," said Victor W. Guillemin, chair of the pure mathematics committee, of which Melrose is a part. Guillemin said Melrose was notified of the award via electronic mail.

"I was pretty confident [that Melrose would win a fellowship] because he's awfully good. ... The Guggenheim is not only a competition among scientists, it's a competition across the board, against artists, novelists, painters, you name it. We were very pleased," Guillemin said.

Guggenheim Fellows are chosen on the basis of unusually distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment, according to a Guggenheim Foundation press release. This year's fellows were chosen from 3,162 applicants and were awarded a total of $3,925,000. This is the 68th year the foundation has awarded the fellowships.

Candidates for a Guggenheim must be nominated to one of several advisory panels, who then make recommendations to the foundation's Committee of Selection. Three people, including Guillemin, nominated Melrose. Foundation applications are reviewed by leaders in the applicant's field, Gurl said.

Nature of shadows

Guillemin explained that Melrose's work was significant because it makes "physical optics mathematically vigorous." Melrose has focused on the nature of shadows. "In geometric optics, if you start a light beam from somewhere, and then put an obstacle in its path, the light beam hits the obstacle. In geometric optics theory, the light beam never gets behind the obstacle. It's completely black behind the obstacle, and bright everywhere else," Guillemin said.

"From real life, though, we know that this story is not correct, that you see a shadow if you stand behind the obstacle. What was missing until [Melrose's] work was a completely rigorous mathematical explanation of the nature of the shadow. Melrose's most famous piece of mathematical work is a completely definitive theory on the nature of the shadow region," he continued.

Guillemin said Melrose has also won the Bocher Prize, given every four years by the American Mathematics Society, for his work on physical optics.

Other MIT winners

Richard M. Dudley, another member of the math department, won a Guggenheim last year. Dudley said he was pleased to hear of Melrose's award because "any kind of award to anybody in our department helps our department and helps to show that it's one of the best in the country."

Other recent winners at MIT include Edward A. Boyle PhD '76 and Roger G. Burns, both professors of earth, atmospheric, and planetary science; Drew Fudenberg PhD '81, a professor of economics, and Harriet N. Ritvo, an associate professor of writing.

Dudley said the awards provide "the flexibility to travel to places where there's interesting research going on."

Karen Kaplan contributed to the reporting of this article.