Jarvis NSA Grant

Jarvis Studies Math, Physics with NSA Grant

by Katie Pitt


Code-cracking and understanding physics isn’t just for the spies and scientists anymore—rather it is the collaborative work of mathematicians driving new research forward.


Tyler Jarvis, chair of the Department of Mathematics, received a research grant from the National Security Agency (NSA) to explore group actions, orbicurves and topological field theory. These topics fall under algebra and algebraic geometry, which are the best means for making and breaking codes. Beyond cryptography, however, Jarvis’ work also has implications for the field of physics.


His research into group actions is directed toward understanding the geometric problems that arise from theoretical physics. As physicists study the interaction of particles, they regularly bring questions of geometry to the math department. The mathematicians, in turn, work to understand the symmetry and geometry involved, so they can then provide insight into the geometric structures. This collaborative chain reaction between the disciplines helps determine new approaches to the material involved.


“The ultimate application for the physics I am studying is still unknown,” Jarvis said of his work. “But physics gives us deep insight in to the geometric properties of these surfaces.”


As he explores these areas, Jarvis contributes to his department’s mission to “build a unified and collegial atmosphere” through teaching, research and citizenship. He finds the interdisciplinary nature of the work particularly engaging, and enjoys the opportunity to interact with different faculty members both inside and outside his own department.


“It draws on physically motivated intuition to show that many areas of math are connected in ways we never thought of,” he said.


In light of new research, the traditional view of math as “one person in a room thinking” seems to be changing. Jarvis’ NSA grant, for example, is bringing graduate and undergraduate students into the cycle of collaboration.


The Department of Mathematics hopes to see more space made for its own labs soon. Currently, Jarvis is working to meet with students in whatever space is available. However, despite the logistical problems, Jarvis still finds great satisfaction in seeing the students do well.


“They’re bright and helpful,” he said. “I learn many things from them.”