Stieltjesprijs 2019-2020

Op dinsdag 15 december 2020 is de jury voor de Stieltjesprijs (online)bijeengekomen voor het toekennen van deze prijs voor het beste wiskundige proefschrift verschenen in het academisch jaar 2019-2020. De jury heeft bij de bepaling van de uiteindelijke winnaar gekeken naar de mate waarin het werk van de kandidaat nieuwe kennis aan het vakgebied van de wiskunde heeft toegevoegd, naar de originaliteit en de wiskundige diepgang, de kwaliteit van de presentatie, de productiviteit en de zelfstandigheid van de promovendus. Op basis van deze criteria kwam de jury tot een voorstel; de jury stelt unaniem voor om de Stieltjesprijs voor het academisch jaar 2019 – 2020 aan Bente Bakker toe te kennen. Bente Bakker is gepromoveerd aan de Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam met Jan Bouwe van den Berg en Rob van der Vorst als promotores, op een proefschrift met de titel “Nonlinear waves in local and nonlocal media. A topological approach”.

Op donderdag 28 januari zal de Stieltjesprijs worden uitgereikt aan Bente Bakker, en zal zij ook een voordracht houden over haar promotie-onderzoek. Informatie is te vinden op: https://mathematischcongres.nl/

Report of the jury of the Stieltjesprijs academic year 2019-2020

The jury for the Stieltjes Prize met on Tuesday 15 December 2020 to award the prize for the best mathematical dissertation published in the academic year 2019-2020.

The jury consisted of Erik van den Ban (UU), Odo Diekmann (UU), Aernout van Enter (RUG, chair), Richard Gill (UL), Frans Oort (UU), Marc Uetz (UT) and Kees Vuik (TUD), with assistance from Marieke Kranenburg (UvA, secretary). A total of 76 dissertations were assessed this time. External advice was obtained at various stages of the assessment. After an initial selection, a shortlist of 6 dissertations was drawn up.

Once again the jury was impressed by the high level of the dissertations. After the first round of discussion, 4 dissertations remained; all 4 of those candidates would have been worthy winners of the Stieltjes Prize. In determining the final winner, the jury focused on the extent to which the candidate’s work has added new knowledge to the field of mathematics, on the originality and the mathematical depth of the contribution, the quality of presentation and the productivity. Based on this, the jury unanimously proposes to award the Stieltjes Prize for the academic year 2019 – 2020 to Bente Bakker.

Bente Bakker received her PhD degree at the Free University, Amsterdam , with supervisors Jan Bouwe van den Berg and Rob van der Vorst, for her thesis “Nonlinear Waves in Local and Nonlocal Media. A topological Approach”. 

Bente Bakker’s thesis explores the ways in which algebraic-topological machinery, originating in the Calculus of Variations, can be used to study the existence and multiplicity of traveling wave solutions to a large class of Reaction Diffusion Equations that take nonlocal interactions into account. Inspired by Floer homology and Conley’s earlier theory of isolated invariant sets, she uses topological information to count traveling waves in Morse theoretic spirit. And by adapting Noether’s theorem to a nonlocal setting she identified new conserved quantities.

 The abstract theory relies on technical conditions (such as ‘transversality’) and to verify these involves hard PDE analysis, in particular Carleman estimates. It was absolutely unclear that such estimates could be derived for equations with nonlocal terms, but she managed, thus showing impressive technical skills.

Bente Bakker’s very general and imaginative adaptation of the Floer-Conley methods provides a new framework for thinking about traveling waves that is bound to spawn many new investigations. She deserves the prize for the abstract approach, both elegant and efficient, for the astonishing creativity in breaking down barriers previously thought impenetrable, and, last but not least, for the potential future impact on the description and understanding of coherent structures, with applications spanning nonlinear optics, fluid dynamics, and self-organized structures in biology or sociology. One of the referees wrote: “I believe Bakker’s PhD thesis is at a level that one only sees once a decade”.

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