Professor honored for ‘unexpected’ mathematical solution

Media Credit: Kiana Robertson | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Max Alekseyev, an associate professor of mathematics and computational biology, won a prize last month for solving a math problem that had been unsolved for 16 years.

One professor is getting all the right answers.

Max Alekseyev, an associate professor of mathematics and computational biology, won a prize last month for giving the best answer to one of a series of unsolved math problems. Alekseyev was up against 23 other nominees for a prize of $1,000 for a solution.

The John Riordan Prize was offered for the best possible solution to an open problem on the On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences, an online database containing sequences of numbers. The problem Alekseyev addressed had been unsolved for 16 years.

Alekseyev said in an email that he has contributed to the OEIS for years and found out about the prize opportunity in a “Sequence Fanatics” mail list, the primary way people can receive OEIS announcements and discuss the database.

Those competing for the prize had to choose from one of many unsolved problems in the database. Alekseyev said he submitted a paper on his chosen sequence to win the award, and the judges chose his solution because of its “unexpected nature.”

Alekseyev wrote in a public letter to the SeqFan mail list that the prize was an honor, but the other submissions should also be considered to keep solving problems in the database.

He said in an email that he has always been interested in finding ways to use his mathematical background to solve “real-life problems.” He added that this led him to pursue research in computational biology, which combines mathematical models and biology.

“Many of my research projects are collaborative,” Alekseyev said. “I use mathematics and computation to solve old, long-standing and recently emerged open biological problems.”

Alekseyev said his dual affiliation with mathematics and computational biology at GW allows him “to attract and excite mathematics students with the beauty and novelty of theoretic problems arising from biology.”

Keith Crandall, director of the Institute for Computational Biology, said in an email that this prize speaks to the talent and skill that he and other leaders are developing at the Computational Biology Institute, which is one of the highest revenue-generating and most well-recognized research institutes at GW.

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