ANN ARBOR — Math, says University of Michigan senior Alex Carney, is not about numbers or shapes.
“It’s the study of the fundamental relationships between ideas,” he said. “It’s not simple coincidence that nearly all of even the most theoretical mathematical developments turn out to be useful in a huge variety of applications.”
The Midland native, who first came to appreciate math through his violin, will graduate with honors in May. He already has several publications in the field of number theory. And now he is one of just 36 students in the United States to receive a prestigious 2012 Marshall Scholarship, which will enable him to study for two years in the United Kingdom.
“I’m very excited,” Carney said. “The scholarship is a chance not only to earn a degree, but to study in a community of some of the most brilliant and interesting students in the world.”
Carney will spend one year studying the history of science, medicine and technology at the University of Oxford, and another year in math at the University of Cambridge. He looks forward to going abroad, to seeing new places and hearing new ideas in another educational tradition.
Carney plays violin in the highly selective Michigan University Philharmonia Orchestra and leads the Michigan Pops String Orchestra as director and concertmaster. He is also a competitive runner who placed seventh overall in the 2010 Detroit Marathon.
“The Provost’s Council on Student Honors, which selects UM’s nominees for the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, recognizes that students who win these famous honors must be remarkably accomplished and good company, as well,” said Gretchen Weir, UM assistant vice provost for academic affairs. “In spite of the focus required to be a competitive runner, published mathematician and skilled musician, Alex’s interests continue to broaden. His curiosity and vigor will make him a valued companion as he explores Oxford and Cambridge with his fellow Marshall Scholars.”
Carney’s long-term career goals include teaching and researching math education. He wants to work at putting some of the profound and fundamentally human elements back into this age-old discipline.
“A connection is needed so that the excitement I’ve experienced at research conferences can replace the disinterest I’ve seen in students,” Carney wrote in the personal statement that landed him this scholarship. “In the current state, it is as if students are learning years of harmonic theory without ever realizing that Beethoven used it to create a symphony.”