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Karl Liechty, Mathematics, Alumni

Music major makes noteworthy transition to math scholar

Karl Liechty | 2010 Alumnus, Ph.D. Mathematics, Post-Doc, University of Michigan | Department of Mathematical Sciences One would never think of discussing a math problem with a jazz musician or asking a mathematics Ph.D. to play alto sax.

With Karl Liechty, you can do both. And while holding a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies and a doctorate in mathematics may seem like night and day, both accomplishments mark Liechty’s journey towards a career in mathematics.

“I soon realized after graduating with a music degree that I would have to find a way to be creative and make a living,” says Liechty, an Indiana native and graduate of Indiana University’s renowned Jacobs School of Music. “I’d taken enough math classes in college to qualify for a minor, and I liked math, so I applied to graduate school at IUPUI.”

Earning a master’s degree in mathematics in 2007 and a Ph.D. in 2010, Liechty co-authored four papers with Dr. Paul Bleher, School of Science mathematics professor and Liechty’s doctoral advisor. The two completed a number of research projects focusing on random matrix theory and its application to statistical mechanics, particularly the six-vertex model.

“Professor Bleher was an outstanding advisor – very organized and meticulous,” says Liechty, who expects to continue collaborating with Bleher in the future. “The math department here has a really strong faculty who are accessible to students. I could knock on anyone’s door and talk to them; that’s not always the case at other schools.”

While attending IUPUI, Liechty received a number of awards and honors, including the mathematics department’s Graduate Student Teaching Award in 2010. He also was recognized in 2007 as the math department’s outstanding beginning graduate student, and the following year, Liechty was honored by the School of Science for outstanding teaching by a graduate student. He also made an academic visit in fall 2008 to the Centre des Recherches Mathématiques in Montreal, Canada. The theme while he attended was “Probabilistic Methods in Mathematical Physics.”

Liechty is set to begin a three-year post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in January 2011. This fall, he will attend the prestigious Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, Calif. Liechty will spend a semester conducting research at the institute, where the topics this fall are random matrices and integrable models – two of Liechty’s areas of interest. Although Liechty won’t rule out returning to Indiana following his post-doctoral studies, he’s certain a full-time mathematics faculty position is somewhere in his future.

“I enjoy the freedom that academia allows,” says Liechty. “And the ability to collaborate with others to create things and solve problems.”

Spotlight Update: Liechty is now an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Science at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois.