KUMUNU opens with Eisenbud lecture

David Eisenbud

David Eisenbud, University of California, Berkeley, gave the 15th Annual Rowlee Lecture on April 1, 2011.

KUMUNU is an annual gathering named for three hotbeds of commutative algebra - the universities of Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

Supported in part by the National Science Foundation, it began at KU in 1999 and moved to NU in 2005. The format consists of six to eight 45-minute expository talks on commutative algebra and related topics, such as representation theory and algebraic geometry. The roster of speakers typically consists of a balance of established spokespeople and talented youngsters, as well as a mix of regional and national experts.

This year's KUMUNU, organized by Research Assistant Professor Susan Cooper (now an assistant professor at Central Michigan University) and Professor Brian Harbourne, was held April 1-2, 2011. The speakers were Olgur Celikbas (Missouri), Calin Chindris (Missouri), David Eisenbud (Berkeley), Claudia Miller (Syracuse), Hal Schenck (Illinois), Sandra Spiroff (Mississippi), Mark Walker (Nebraska) and Roya Beheshti Zavareh (Washington University). An important KUMUNU tradition is the Saturday evening reception and dinner (held this year at the Wiegands' home), which allows participants to meet and establish mathematical connections in an informal setting.

On April 1, Eisenbud gave the 15th Annual Rowlee Lecture, providing a splendid opening for the KUMUNU conference. Many KUMUNU participants arrived in time to hear Eisenbud, a leading researcher in commutative algebra and algebraic geometry, and author of several widely used books on these subjects. He chose the title "Plato's Cave: Some things we know and some things we don't know about shadows on the wall." The name comes from a fictional dialog, described in Book VII of Plato's The Republic, between Socrates and Plato's brother Glaucon. In the parable, prisoners are chained so that they can face in only one direction, toward a blank wall illuminated by a huge fire behind the prisoners. As events take place between the fire and the prisoners' backs, they see only the shadows and eventually accept the shadows as reality. Eisenbud's lecture asked how much of a higher-dimensional object can be reconstructed from its projection onto lower dimensions. Such questions are important not only in geometry but also in data analysis and elsewhere.

The Rowlee Lecture Series is made possible by a generous donation from the estate of the late Howard Rowlee, long-time friend of the Department. The lectures were established to promote public understanding of mathematical research and to stimulate the environment for mathematics research at UNL.

The 15 Rowlee lecturers, representing a diverse cross-section of the mathematical sciences, are among the nation's most distinguished scientists. Eisenbud has served as President of the American Mathematical Society and Director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. He has had 27 Ph.D. students, many of whom are also top researchers. His 78 mathematical descendants include five UNL Ph.D.s.

-Roger and Sylvia Wiegand