Two Penn Professors Receive Humboldt Awards

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Media Contact:Evan Lerner | | 215-573-6604May 9, 2014

Two University of Pennsylvania professors have been awarded Humboldt Research Awards to fund year-long collaborations with colleagues in Germany.

Pedro Ponte Castañeda, the Raymond S. Markowitz Faculty Fellow and professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, and Florian Pop, the Samuel D. Schack Professor of Algebra in the School of Arts & Sciences, were among this year’s class of honorees.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation describes the award as a recognition of a researcher's “entire achievements to date.” After receiving nominations from German researchers, the Foundation grants the awards “to academics whose fundamental discoveries, new theories or insights have had a significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future.”

Award winners are invited to spend as long as one year cooperating on long-term projects at German universities and research institutions.

Ponte, whose research involves mathematical theories that underpin composite and “smart” materials, will be visiting the University of Stuttgart.

“We are interested in developing composite materials with unusual or superior properties by optimal design of their microstructures,” Ponte said, “that is, by controlling the geometric arrangement of their constituent phases in space and time. An example is provided by the design of ‘artificial muscles,’ which are materials that can undergo controlled deformations by application of appropriate magnetic or electrical fields.”

Pop, a leading expert in a new branch of algebra and number theory known as Anabelian geometry, will visit Heidelberg University, his alma matter, and the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn.

“One of my objectives,” Pop said, “is to understand and explain the role of what we call ‘shadow’ decomposition laws evolving from prime numbers, which mirror the fact that every whole number has a unique decomposition as the product of prime numbers. A more concrete description of such laws, and similar ones but of geometric nature, has important consequences in computer science, for things like encryption and coding theory and physics in terms of the geometry of physical spaces, among other areas.”