Eric de Sturler takes helm of Department of Mathematics in College of Science
June 26, 2018
Eric de Sturler has been named chair of the Department of Mathematics in the Virginia Tech College of Science, taking over the position from Peter Haskell, who has led the department since 2007.
De Sturler begins his tenure as department leader on Aug. 10. Before joining Virginia Tech in 2006, de Sturler was on faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Computer Science, as well as affiliate faculty member of its Center for Simulation of Advanced Rockets, the Materials Computation Center, and the Institute for Genomic Biology.
“I see several exciting opportunities in taking the lead of mathematics, helping groups and individual faculty members to be more effective in research and teaching, and to define jointly with the faculty what are the most important directions in which the mathematics department should grow,” de Sturler said.
Under Haskell’s leadership, the Department of Mathematics now teaches more than 70,000 student credit hours per year – more than 7 percent of the university's total – while maintaining a robust research program recognized in recent years by an Einstein Fellowship, a Humboldt Fellowship, and two National Science Foundation CAREER Awards for research faculty.
The department also supports outreach and co-curricular activities, such as the Virginia Tech Regional Mathematics Contest, which has outgrown its name to include 739 participants from 28 states; Washington, D.C.; and one Canadian province in last year's 39th annual contest; and the Blacksburg Math Circle, which offers dozens of local middle school students opportunities to explore intriguing mathematical ideas.
Virginia Tech mathematics students also participate in the COMAP Mathematical Contest in Modeling, in which Virginia Tech teams now represent 3 percent of the U.S. participants. Three times in the past eight years Virginia Tech teams have earned Outstanding awards in this large international contest.
“I’d like to thank Peter for his leadership of the Department of Mathematics,” said Sally C. Morton, dean of the College of Science. “Under his guidance, the department not only provides fundamental math education to thousands of Virginia Tech students, but also incorporates hands-on education and outreach opportunities that are the hallmark of our land-grant mission.”
De Sturler researches iterative methods for linear systems, nonlinear systems and optimization, and inverse problems, with applications ranging from medical imaging to optimizing carbon fixation in plants and surface parameterization for computer graphics. He studies the use of quantum Monte Carlo methods to calculate deep-earth materials properties and the design of optimal mechanical structures.
He also is a member of the Academy of Integrated Science’s computational modeling and data analytics (CMDA) program, which he helped develop for the College of Science. The CMDA program has grown to more than 400 majors by offering a program that breaks down barriers between traditional disciplines.
“Eric’s work at the intersection of mathematics and computer modeling is a good fit for him to be able to shepherd important and in-demand research and teaching here at Virginia Tech,” Morton said.
On what drew him to a career in science, de Sturler said, “I have always been fascinated with the problem-solving ability of mathematics with computers, and I have degrees in mathematics and computer science. Computers bring mathematics to life. The ability of mathematics to describe problems from disparate fields in similar ways and use the same methods for solving them continues to fascinate me.”
De Sturler earned a master’s degree in computer science (cum laude) in 1990 and a Ph.D. in applied mathematics in 1994, both from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. He later worked at ETH Zurich as a research scientist and senior research scientist at the Interdisciplinary Project Center for Supercomputing and the Swiss Center for Scientific Computing, all before joining academia in 1998.
De Sturler spent the summer of 1997 at Stanford University and has been a visiting Fellow at the Australian National University and the Institute for Fluid Dynamics at ETH Zurich. He was awarded a Leslie Fox Prize in Numerical Analysis from the United Kingdom’s Institute for Mathematics and its Applications in 1997.
He has served as editor for multiple journals, including the SIAM Journal on Numerical Analysis from 2003 to 2009 and Applied Numerical Mathematics from 2005 to 2015. He also has served on the Computing Research Association’s Board of Directors since 2015.