Calculated research

July 3, 2014

IMAGE_story_quasicrystalsIn June, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced the results of the 2014 Discovery Grants, scholarships and fellowship competitions for universities across the country. Four MacEwan University faculty members received grants, including Nicolae Strungaru, mathematics and statistics, who received funding for his research, “Almost periodic measures and mathematical diffraction.”

What is your research about?

My research interests lie in the area of mathematical physics, and I am particularly interested in mathematical problems related to the diffraction of quasi-crystals. Physical quasi-crystals were discovered in 1984 and they exhibit an intriguing diffraction, with properties that at the time of their discovery were thought impossible. Their discovery puzzled the physics community, and my research is about the understanding of the structure of these solids.

From a mathematical point of view, my research is in the area of long-range aperiodic order, and I am particularly interested in Meyer sets, mathematical diffraction, almost periodic measures and spectral theory.

What have you discovered through your research?

Most of my research is related to the diffraction patterns for some mathematical models we call Meyer sets. I have discovered that Meyer sets have very nice diffraction patterns, and that the diffraction exhibits some interesting unexpected properties.

What work is involved?

Mathematical research is very different than research in other areas of science. It is about discovering and proving new theorems, and most often, one does not know what one might get before getting there.

Mathematical research doesn’t involve experiments; it requires calculations, reasoning and looking for new ideas.

How does the NSERC grant aid your research?

I collaborate with researchers around the world and meeting my collaborators helps with the projects. Today, the Internet makes collaborations much easier, but many projects are still dependent on in-person meetings, especially in mathematics. This grant gives me more opportunities to meet with my collaborators and to participate at conferences.

I am currently working on some joint projects with researchers from Bielefeld University, Jena University, Erlangen University in Germany, and from Universidad Andres Bello in Chile.

How has this research influenced your teaching?

In mathematics, the gap between undergraduate courses and research is pretty wide, much wider than in other areas. Because of this, in mathematics, research has a limited influence on teaching at the undergraduate level.

Nevertheless, in some classes my research allows me to present to the students some interesting examples and models related to the abstract mathematical concepts we are studying. It also allows me to emphasize why certain concepts are important, and give students a motivation to study them.

Photo credits: "Zn-Mg-Ho Diffraction.jpg" by Materialscientist (top) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 and "Ho-Mg-AnQuasicrystal.jpg" by AmesLab (bottom) is licensed under CC PO-Mark.

Interviews with other 2014 NSERC Discovery Grant recipients:

Get MacEwan University news delivered to your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter