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UT’s Lenhart honored to deliver the American Mathematical Society’s Gibbs Lecture at Joint Mathematics Meeting

Meeting Announcement

University of Tennessee at Knoxville

Suzanne Lenhart instructing students


UT Chancellor's Professor Suzanne Lenhart writes on a board while students observe.

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Credit: Photo by Erik Campos

Suzanne Lenhart, Chancellor’s Professor in the Department of Mathematics, will join a storied list of honored speakers to deliver the Josiah Willard Gibbs Lecture at the world’s largest annual math gathering, the American Mathematics Society (AMS) Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM2024), taking place January 3–6, 2024, in San Francisco.

JMM2024 brings researchers from 20 national and international partner associations to share the latest developments in mathematical thought and application.

Lenhart is the first UT professor to deliver the Gibbs lecture, which dates back to 1923. This annually awarded lectureship recognizes outstanding achievement in applied mathematics and shines a light for the public and the academic community on the contribution mathematics makes for contemporary thinking and culture.

The Gibbs lecture has previously been delivered by notable mathematicians like Robert May of Oxford University, Cathleen Morawetz of New York’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Ingrid Daubechies from Princeton—and one particularly well-known name in mathematics history.

“Many famous mathematicians have given these lectures, even Albert Einstein,” said Lenhart. “I am very honored and excited.”

She thinks that delivering this year’s Gibbs lecture shows the UT math department’s support for strong researchers. Her presentation and connections made during the conference contribute to the department’s future growth.

“This talk may help to recruit some graduate students to our program,” she said. “I love going to this conference. I see a lot of friends and I meet a lot of research collaborators. It is usually a very big meeting, maybe 4,500 attendees.”

Lenhart’s lecture, “Natural System Management: A Mathematician’s Perspective,” explores how mathematical modeling can represent the population dynamics of a variety of natural systems, and how modeling guides methods for conscientious improvements in ecological management strategies.

“Mathematical modeling can provide decision support for managers and policy makers,” she said. “For example, mathematics can suggest management strategies for sustainable fishery harvest levels.”

Examples in her talk also include modeling applications for controlling rabies in raccoon populations, controlling wildfires in national parks, and personalizing therapy for those facing Alzheimer’s Disease. She also shows how modeling can guide ongoing and future conservation efforts.

“Sea turtles will have trouble surviving in the future due to high temperatures from climate change,” said Lenhart. “Math can directly suggest something—a strategy, or it could suggest that you’ve got to take some action.”

Her talk uses predictive models on how rising temperatures negatively affects Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings’ survival ability, opening guidance for the types of conservation efforts needed to help the species.

Lenhart also organized a special session for JMM2024 in relation to her Gibbs lecture that will take place the same day. She will join 24 speakers from across the country to discuss “Dynamics and Management in Disease or Ecological Models.”

“I will attend several other talks, especially related to modeling in ecology or epidemiology,” she said. “I will also attend some panel sessions about science policy, since I am on the AMS Committee on Science Policy.”

Lenhart’s honor as the 2024 Gibbs lecturer and her ongoing engagement with AMS contribute to UT’s role on the forefront of mathematics that help us understand and improve life across the planet.

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