Mathematics Department from 1980 to 1989

The Burniston Years (I)

After an extensive search of many outside candidates, Ernest Burniston was selected from the inside to become head of the department in the fall of 1980.

Ernest E. Burniston

Ernest E. Burniston was born in 1937 in Sheffield, England. He earned a B.Sc. in Mathematics from the University of London in 1960 and a Ph.D. from the same university in 1962. He was a lecturer at Sir John Cass College at the University of London from 1962 to 1965. In 1964 Burniston applied for a position at NC State. In the spring of 1965 John Cell, the head of the mathematics department at NCSU, was on vacation in London and interviewed Burniston at an ideal location for an Englishman—in a tea shop. Burniston joined the mathematics department later that year.

Burniston did his research in elasticity, mechanics and fracture mechanics. He was part of the "Applied Math Group" working on fracture mechanics which was funded by the Air Force from 1965 to 1973. In 1972 his research interest turned to transport theory, and he wrote several papers in this area, mostly with C. E. Siewert. He and Siewert also wrote several papers on solution of transcendental equations. All told, Burniston wrote over 30 research papers, supervised eight master's students and three Ph.D. students.

Burniston is an accomplished classical clarinet player who has participated in many musical performances in the Raleigh area.

In 1981 Burniston continued the program, started by Harrington, to recognize the winners of the Maltbie Awards for Outstanding Teaching Assistants in Mathematics. Moreover, in the spring of 1982, Burniston extended the program to include all students receiving awards and scholarships. Students successfully completing the Honors Program were also recognized. This was the start of the tradition of having an annual ``Awards Day'' near the end of the spring semester.

In the late 1970's and early 1980's the enrollment of undergraduate majors declined somewhat. When Walter Harrington retired in 1982, Burniston went outside the department to find Michael J. Evans to be the Director of Undergraduate Programs. Evans was a solid mathematician, an excellent teacher, and had a fine rapport with students. Evans put new life into the undergraduate program. He recruited extensively throughout North Carolina, rejuvenated an undergraduate mathematics club, and raised the admissions standards. Bob Ramsay took over as Director of the Undergraduate Program in 1993 when Evans left State for a named professorship at Washington and Lee.

In 1983 Frank F. McKee, a Raleigh businessman concerned about mathematics education in Wake County, proposed an annual contest to recognize outstanding mathematics students. Burniston and Michael Evans cooperated with Mr. McKee and the Wake County School System in setting up the contest. "The McKee Excellence in Mathematics Competition" was funded by Mr. McKee from 1983 to 1994. Burniston, Evans, Wilson, and Petrea made up the problems for the contest. From 1994 until 2002, the math department sponsored the contest. Since 2002 the competition has been funded by Todd Fuller, and is now known as the the "Todd Fuller Competition".

Todd Fuller graduated Summa Cum Laude from NC State in 1996 with a major in mathematics. He also was a star on the State basketball team---one of the few math majors to participate in a major college sports program. Fuller was an Academic All-American and declined a Rhodes Scholarship to play professional basketball. He played for several years both in the US and abroad.
From 1989 to 1999 the exam committee for the competition was headed by Bob Ramsay and since then by Jeff Scroggs.

An external committee reviewed the state of the mathematics department in December of 1983. The committee consisted of Professor George J. Fix (Mathematics Department, Carnegie-Mellon University), Professor Jack K. Hale (Division of Applied Math, Brown University) and Professor Richard S. Pierce (Dept. of Math, Arizona University). The summary of their report appears below.

Report of Visiting Committee

Department of Mathematics

North Carolina State University


The review committee feels that the Mathematics Department is essentially in good shape and serves the University well. It is in a state of transition with many new opportunities that will require some adjustment on the part of its faculty. However, with careful planning, it can look forward to progress throughout this decade. Our review of the Department's undergraduate and master's programs is given in the second section [not included here]. These are traditional strengths of the Department, and they have produced a number of excellent students. The Department is involved in aggressive recruiting of students, which augurs well for continuing progress in the future.

The Ph.D. program and the Department's role in research has a shorter tradition, greater problems, as well as greater opportunities. The Committee feels that it would be a mistake to attempt to replicate large and broadly based programs such as for example exist at the University of California at Berkeley. A better strategy would be to concentrate on key areas in applied mathematics and analysis where there is a reasonable chance of achieving national prominence. However, this must be done in such a way as to preserve strength in pure mathematics. Care must always be exercised in developing the program toward more applied subjects, it is very easy to become concerned only with relevance and funding, forgetting about the academic side. This would be a mistake and detrimental to the morale of the Department.

The development of a critical mass in numerical analysis is an excellent step in that direction. In addition to adding to the department's overall strength, this group could be a university-wide resource in the stimulation of badly needed Ph.D. training and research in the computational sciences. Moreover, given current national trends it is not unreasonable for the Department to expect this group to attract rather generous amounts of outside funding.

The Department also has a budding research group in dynamical systems and differential equations. Current problems include a low level of faculty interaction as well as a substandard record of outside funding. Nevertheless, there is an abundance of talent in this area. This is a place where the right type of outside appointment could make a major difference.

The algebra group at North Carolina State University is fairly large and reasonably active, but the Committee feels that this group could be more effective if it had greater cohesion and a broader range of interest. An aggressive leader among the algebraists would be a real asset. With proper encouragement, such a person might emerge from the existing group, but it is more likely that an outsider could be found to fill this need.

The Committee has also looked at the organizational structure of the Department, and found it to be both rational and efficient. One area that can be improved is continual long term planning. There should be a better understanding of the criteria for promotion to tenure and it certainly should rely more on the national reputation of the candidates. Hiring procedures should become more aggressive and more formalized to avoid confrontation at the time candidates are being interviewed.

The space problems that confront the Mathematics department are very serious and affect the quality of the Department's efforts both in research and education. Fortunately, these problems are widely recognized, and it seems likely that they will be dealt with as soon as possible.

In general, members of the Department should be encouraged to obtain more external funding. Since the preparation of proposals is very time consuming, the Dean's office should take all responsibility for the routine aspects of this effort.

Meyer, IBM rep., Kelley, Plemmons with the IBM 4361

Burniston had anticipated the committee's recommendation to build strength in numerical analysis. He hired Bob Plemmons in 1981 and Moody Chu in 1982 to add to the faculty already here: Tim Kelley, Carl Meyer and Bob White. Later three more were added: Ralph Byers (now at the University of Kansas), Steve Wright (now at the University of Wisconsin) and Nancy Nichols (now at the University of Reading, England). The increased research in this area led to the consideration of establishing a Center for Research in Scientific Computing (CRSC). In 1985 IBM donated a mainframe computer, an IBM 4361, to the department (see photo above). This was used for research by the faculty and was also a factor in getting approval for the CRSC. The Center was approved by the UNC Board of Governors in 1986, based on a proposal written by Associate Dean Les Sims and Bob Plemmons with input from Ernie Burniston, Carl Meyer and Bob White.

The purpose of the CRSC was to foster research in scientific computing and provide a focal point for research in computational science, engineering and applied mathematics. Carl Meyer was Director of the CRSC from 1986 to 1988. Bob Plemmons took over from 1988 to 1990. There were several accomplishments of the CRSC during these first four years: an increase in interactions between faculty in several departments in PAMS and in Engineering on scientific computing activities, new courses in Mathematics related to scientific computing and parallel processing were developed, and a grant was obtained from the Air Force for a small supercomputer (Alliant FX4) which was located in the Mathematics Department. After Plemmons left for Wake Forest in 1990, the Center was inactive until Tom Banks was hired as director in 1992 during the Martin administration; it has since grown to a position of national and international renown.

Like the undergraduate program, the graduate program enrollment decreased in the late 1970's and early 1980's, following a national trend. The graduate administrator Richard Chandler, with considerable assistance from Gary Faulkner, increased recruiting efforts which eventually led to increased enrollments in the graduate program. John Franke continued to recruit aggressively when he became Graduate Administrator in 1984.

The Audio-Visual Tutorial Center, directed by Bob Savage, continued to provide valuable assistance to students. In 1988-89 TV tapes, made by interested faculty members, were available for eleven different courses in precalculus, calculus courses, differential equations and advanced math for engineers and scientists. Students used these tapes extensively; about 5 tapes were viewed for each hour the center was in operation. In 1980 Savage pioneered in making a computer-assisted instruction video for a precalculus course using the North Star Computer, and in 1985, he made a similar video for Ma 111, Algebra and Trigonometry. These efforts were specifically cited in Part II of the 1983 External Review Committee where the committee commented: "Probably no department in this country has a better effort in the use of state-of-the-art audio-visual materials." Bob Savage left for the Dean's office in 1987, and the direction of the center was taken over by Lavon Page.

After Armstrong Maltbie retired in 1979, the supervision of the graduate teaching assistants was taken over by Tom Gordon and then by Mary Marsha Cupitt. In 1985 Marilyn McCollum agreed to take on this responsibility and has handled the task ever since. Under McCollum's leadership the program was expanded into a four day workshop for new graduate teaching assistants plus an additional workshop before the assistants teach their first course. In addition TA's are carefully monitored by the faculty while they are teaching. This program has been praised by many other universities and was specifically pointed out as a program that "could be a model for many other departments" in the report of an External Review Committee in 1997.

C. Lewis, H. Park, Chancellor Poulton, H. Cooke, H. Nahikian
(Photo from the September 22, 1986 edition of the Technician)

The picture above shows Chancellor Poulton commending four retired faculty who were teaching without pay (a State law at the time prohibited any salary for people over the age of 72). Besides those in the photo, H. Speece and J. Levine also contributed their time. The only "compensation" they received was free parking and tickets to State football games. This is just one of several manifestations of the unusual loyalty of the faculty to the department and the university. Although the department has had many prominent mathematicians, only a few left the department for positions at other institutions. In addition, fourteen awards and scholarships have been established by faculty of the department, often with the help of family and friends. They are C. Anderson, H. T. Banks, R. Bullock, J. Cell, J. Cohen, C. Lewis, J. Levine, A. Maltbie, L. Martin, C. Mumford, H. Park, H. Petrea, N. Rose and L. Winton.

Since World War II, electronic, and later transistorized, digital main frame computers became increasingly available on college campuses. Many faculty used these computers for numerical calculations related to their research, and a few used them in conjunction with their courses. In the 1980's symbolic computational programs, sometimes called computer algebra programs, became available on main frame computers, and later on personal computers. These programs could perform algebraic manipulations and symbolic computations such as differentiation, integration, summation of series, etc. A number of faculty members experimented with the use of these programs in their classes. MACSYMA, developed at MIT, was used in 1985 by Singer and Rose on a VAX computer. However, the computer was not powerful enough to handle the load for a class of students. In 1986, Ramsay had better luck using MAPLE, developed at Waterloo University in Canada, in his calculus classes. Ramsay was convinced that MAPLE would be a useful addition to undergraduate calculus classes and even more useful in advanced courses where long or tedious calculations are encountered. In the late 1980's a number of faculty including Page, Evans, Singer, Evans and Burniston started using MAPLE in undergraduate courses. Some faculty used MUMATH, a program that could run on personal computers.

Since the 1960's, all additions to the professorial ranks had Ph.D. degrees. Research was an important criterion (some complained it was the only criterion) for advancement. During the 1980's most of the faculty were doing some research. In 1987-88 the faculty produced 59 research publications and 60 papers were presented at professional meetings. The department had developed areas of strength in applied mathematics, mathematical physics, numerical analysis, differential equations and dynamical systems, algebra and topology. Sponsored research was starting to become more significant in the 1980's. The new annual research grants during the 1980's varied from a low of $80,000 to a high of $700,000 with average of $379,000 [information supplied by Ray Fornes, Associate Dean for Research in the college of PAMS].

Burniston made many additions to the faculty during his tenure as department head. In addition to building up the numerical analysis group, he hired staff in differential equations, applied mathematics, mathematical physics and algebra. Brief notes on some of these faculty are given below:

Moody Chu received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 1982 and came to NC State the same year. He is interested in numerical linear algebra, numerical solution of differential equations, nonlinear algebraic equations and dynamical systems on manifolds. Chu has written one book and 85 publications. His research has been supported since 1985 by NSF, DOE, and the Army Research Office. He was editor of the SIAM Journal on Matrix Analysis and Applications from 1995 to 2000. Chu won an Outstanding Teacher Award in 1996 and an Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor Award in 2006.

Ethelbert N. Chukwu got his doctorate at Case Western Reserve University in 1972. He joined the department in 1987. Chukwu works in the application of ordinary differential equations, functional equations and integral equations to control theory and large scale economic systems. He was awarded the Griot Mathematics Award by The Academy for Pan African Research and Culture. Chukwu has written 5 books and 86 research publications. He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Nonlinear Analysis. He is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences. Chukwu retired in 2006.

Michael J. Evans obtained his Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 1970 and came to NC State in 1982. His area of research is real analysis. He has written 65 research papers and supervised 3 Ph.D. students at State. He has been editor of the journal Real Analysis Exchange. Evans was the Director of Undergraduate Programs from 1982 to 1989. He won an Outstanding Teaching Award in 1993. Evans left NC State for a named professorship at Washington and Lee in 1993.

Amassa Fauntleroy graduated from from Northwestern University with a Ph.D. in 1970. He joined the math department in 1986. Fauntleroy does research in the classification of algebraic varieties and has written 30 research articles in this area. Fauntleroy has served on the editorial board of the Notices of the AMS and the Journal of Pure and Applied Algebra. He has served on several committees of the AMS including the committee to select hour speakers for AMS meetings.

Aloysius G. Helminck came from the Netherlands and got his Ph.D. from the University of Utrecht in 1985. He works in algebraic groups, representation theory, p-adic groups, symmetric spaces and symbolic computation. Helminck joined the faculty in 1987. He has written over 40 papers and has supervised 8 Ph.D. students. He has three books in preparation. His research has been supported in part by NSF, NSA, and a Dutch Corporation. Helminck chaired the departmental computing committee for many years. Helminck founded an Institute for Mathematics at NC State (I'M at State), an REU center on Modeling and Industrial Applied Mathematics and a S-STEM initiative involving undergraduate students, graduate students and industrial mentors. He was appointed interim Associate Department Head in 2004,. Helminck served as interim Department Head in 2005-2006 and was appointed Department Head on July 1, 2006. (See also Dept. History, 2006-2009)

Arkady Kheyfets received a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1986 and joined the Mathematics Department in 1987. His research area is mathematical physics. Kheyfets has written 57 research articles and supervised 7 Ph.D. students.

Xiao-Biao Lin works in differential equations, applied mathematics, dynamical systems, bifurcations and singular perturbations. He received a doctorate from Brown University in 1985. and joined the NCSU faculty in 1988. Lin has written 40 research papers and has supervised 2 Ph.D. students. He is on the editorial board of the Far East Journal of Dynamical Systems, the Far East Journal of Mathematics and the journal Partial Differential Equations and Dynamical Systems. His research has been supported by the NSF. Lin has served on the department's Putnam Examination Committee and is currently chairman. In 2008 a conference was held at NC State to celebrate the mathematical contributions of Lin and Steve Schecter on the occasion of their 60th birthdays.

Marilyn McCollum received her M.S. from NCSU in 1977. She joined the faculty in 1981. McCollum has been Supervisor of Graduate Teaching Assistants since 1985. She has proven a worthy successor to Armstrong Maltbie. McCollum has developed two workshops for graduate assistants. One workshop when the students arrive on campus, and one workshop before they teach their first course. McCollum received a 2005 Award for Outstanding Service in Support for Teaching and Learning from the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning at NC State. She was honored with an NC State Outstanding Teacher Award for 2007-2008. McCollum retired in 2009.

Kailash C. Misra was awarded a Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1982. He works in infinite dimensional lie algebras and quantum groups. He joined the department in 1986. Misra has written 55 research papers and has supervised 6 Ph.D. students. He has a book in preparation. Misra's research has been supported by NSA or NSF since 1988. Misra served on the Faculty Senate. Misra has been on the Editorial Board of Communications in Algebra since 1995. He was honored with an Outstanding Teaching Award in 2004.

Larry Norris came to the Mathematics Department in 1980 after receiving his Ph.D. in Physics from N. C. State. He works in symplectic geometry and its generalizations, gauge theory and relativity. Norris has published 35 papers and has had 4 Ph.D. students (2 in math and 2 in physics). He has served as MAPLE Program Director in the department since 1999. MAPLE is a powerful symbolical computational program that is used in many mathematics courses. He his currently working on a DELTA [Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications] grant from N.C. State to produce distance education versions of the Calculus Sequence. In this connection Norris is developing a program to automatically generate versions of MAPLE worksheets with randomized data for calculus and differential equations. Norris received the Elva and LeRoy Martin Teaching Effectiveness Award in 2004.

Robert J. Plemmons got his Ph.D. at Auburn University in 1965. His research is in matrix theory and computational linear algebra. He is author of more than 150 papers and three books on computational mathematics and is on the editorial boards of six journals. Plemmons joined the department in 1981 and left for Wake Forest University in 1990. He was one of the founders of the Center for Research in Scientific Computing and served as its director from 1988 to 1990. During his time at State he supervised 5 PhD students. He played professional baseball in the Baltimore Orioles System for four years in the 1960's after graduating from Wake Forest on a baseball scholarship.

Michael Shearer received his doctorate from Oxford University in 1976. He came to State in 1985. Shearer works in partial differential equations, granular flow and thin liquid films. He has written over 85 papers and has supervised 4 Ph.D. students. His research has been supported by NSF, Army and Air Force since 1985. He has served on the editorial board of the SIAM Journal on Mathematical Analysis since 1990 and the SIAM Undergraduate Research Online . Shearer was Vice President of the SIAG (SIAM's Special Interest Activities Group) in 2005 and 2006. He was Co-Director of the Graduate Program from 1993 to 1995.

Hien T. Tran has a Ph.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1986. He spent three years as a post doctorate fellow at Brown University before joining the department in 1989. Tran's research is in modeling and control of physical and biological processes. He has written 85 papers and supervised 10 Ph.D. students. His research has been supported by a variety of sources including NASA, NSF, NSA, IBM, NIH in the government and MedAoustics, Aerospace Corporation and Calabaza Creek Research Inc. in the private sector. He received two awards from the Aerospace Corporation for his work: a Team Achievement Award in 2001 and an Inventor's Award in 2002. Tran is teaching the course Mathematical and Experimental Modeling of Physical Processes both to local students and by means of a high speed video hookup (NC-REV), to students at other universities. Tran has been faculty advisor for Pi Mu Epsilon since 2002. He has served as Associate Head of the Math Department since 2005.

In 1989, the last year of the (first) Burniston administration, the faculty consisted of:

Full professors: J. W. Bishir, E. E. Burniston, S. L. Campbell, R. E. Chandler, E. N. Chukwu, L. O. Chung,
J. M. A. Danby, J. C. Dunn, A. Fauntleroy, R. O. Fulp, R. E. Hartwig, C. T. Kelley, K. Koh, J. R. Kolb, J. Luh, J. A. Marlin, L. B. Martin, R. H. Martin, Jr., C. D. Meyer, N. Nichols, P. A. Nickel, C. V. Pao, E. L. Peterson, R. J. Plemmons, M. Putcha, N. J. Rose, H. Sagan, J. F. Selgrade, M. Shearer, C. E. Siewert, M. F. Singer, E. L. Stitzinger, H. van der Vaart, O. Wesler;

Associate professors: M. Chu, J. Cohen, G. D. Faulkner, J. E. Franke, T. Lada, D. M. Latch, L. K, Norris,
L. B. Page, H. A. Petrea, R. T. Ramsay, J. Rodriguez, R. G. Savage, S. Schecter, R. Silber,
J. W. Silverstein, D. F. Ullrich, W. M. Waters, R. E. White;

Assistant Professors: H. J. Charlton, R. Haas, D. J. Hansen, G. Helminck, A. Kheyfets, K. C. Misra,
S. O. Paur, J. L. Rulla, S. J. Wright;

Lecturers: E. L. Barnhardt, M. McCollum, J. E. Rohrbach, M. Schiermeier.

Teaching emeritus faculty :H. C. Cooke, J. Levine, C. F. Lewis, H. M. Nahikian, H. V. Park, H. E. Speece,
J. B. Wilson.

Of the 60 regular professorial faculty there were 58 Ph.D.'s.

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