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Mathematics Professor Awarded for Great Research

Photo by Alyssa Lyman

With about six to seven research projects in his queue each year, Dr. Pace Nielsen in the BYU Department of Mathematics has made waves in the mathematics community.  One of his most recent projects was a massive collaboration (unusual in mathematics) with a number of world-class researchers, studying the spacing of prime numbers.  They proved there are infinitely many pairs of primes within 246 integers of each other.

Nielsen received the BYU Young Scholar Award at the Annual University Conference in August.  The Young Scholar Award is given to professors who have been at BYU for less than ten years and have made significant contributions to research within their discipline.

“I was very surprised because I know at BYU there are many, many good researchers,” said Nielsen.

Although he’s only been teaching at BYU since 2009, this professor is no stranger to revolutionary research in mathematics.  Nielsen has authored or co-authored 39 publications since 2002, and his research has found its way around the world.

“I have co-authors in Poland, in Korea, in India, and in California that I’m communicating with on two or three papers right now,” said Nielsen.  “We’re still trying to figure out the answers to a few different questions that we’ve asked ourselves: How does this work?  How does that work?  How do these things tie together?”

A number of factors go into being a progressive scholar and successful professor, and for Nielsen a lot of it has to do with how he spends his time outside of the office.

“I think being active and healthy [and] having physical exercise helps me work harder in my research and helps me understand things better,” he said.

As if Nielsen’s research didn’t keep him busy enough, he is also the father of five children, with ages ranging from three years old to thirteen years old.

According to Nielsen, his children all have an aptitude for mathematics, despite each child’s varied individual interest. The Nielsen family often spends time going for walks together, and Nielsen uses these opportunities to quiz his children on math problems.

One thing he sees in both his children and his students is large amounts of potential.  Although some may feel that math as a subject isn’t for them, Nielsen has a different take on the matter.

Nielsen said most people are good at math “if they just put their mind to it in the first place and give it a shot.”

Nielsen’s passion for research and mathematics stems from the black-and-white nature of the field.

“In any other field, there is some guesswork. In mathematics, it’s either true or false, so I really like that,” said Nielsen.

Nielsen doesn’t plan on slowing down his research any time soon, and he has big plans for the future.

“My hope is to continue . . . to make progress on these important and difficult questions and hopefully answer a few of them,” said Nielsen.  “But even better than getting answers is coming up with some methods that can help other people answer other hard questions.