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Gautam Webb '15 Receives Goldwater Honorable Mention

Conducted Research on Avalanche Polynomials in Abelian Sandpile Model

Gautam Webb '15, a math major from Golden, Colo., has received a Goldwater Honorable Mention. The Goldwater Scholarship is very competitive and is considered by many to be the top scholarship for students pursuing a career in research science. Webb conducted research on avalanche polynomials in the abelian sandpile model last summer at the PURE Math Research Experience for Undergraduates in Hilo, Hawaii. He plans on attending a second REU this summer, this time at San Diego State University.

The abelian sandpile model is a mathematical illustration of self-organized criticality. The term "self-organized criticality" refers to the property of a system being naturally driven to a critical state, from which a disturbance produces fluctuations of a wide range of magnitudes, Webb said. In the model, such fluctuations are called avalanches. The avalanche polynomial of a graph is defined in order to study the distribution of avalanche sizes. "My research focuses on the results of a large computational experiment in Sage that has led us to conjecture formulas for the avalanche polynomials of some well-known graph families.

"I love math and I enjoy doing research in this field," Webb said.

"Gautam has proved himself both through his course work and his research to be deserving of this honor," said Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Amelia Taylor, his advisor. "He has that rare combination of being both creative in his mathematical thinking and the ability to crank through detailed computations and understands the value of both in the process of mathematics. I am always amazed at the enthusiasm with which Gautam pursues mathematical research and am excited to see the results of his research in the coming year."

Webb, who lived in Sydney, Australia, the first six years of his life, and in New Paltz, N.Y., the next six, attended Waldorf schools throughout, which also follow a Block Plan. "When I was looking at colleges, this was a big factor, so CC was a natural choice for me," he said. After graduation, Webb plans to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics, conduct research in pure mathematics, and teach at the university level.

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by the United States Congress in 1986. The purpose of the foundation is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue research careers in these fields.

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