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ASU Regents' Professor Castillo-Chavez has 2 big reasons to celebrate

portrait of man standing in front of chalkboard

ASU's Carlos Castillo-Chavez is one of six lecturers at the Mathematical Association of America centennial celebration in Washington, D.C.

August 06, 2015

How do mathematicians celebrate?

“Not the Latino way with mariachi bands or salsa,” Carlos Castillo-Chavez said from a noisy ballroom in Washington, D.C. “Here we have a few drinks.”

The ASU mathematician has plenty of reasons to celebrate. This month he will be awarded one of math’s highest honors on one continent while addressing a gathering of America’s oldest and largest math societies on another.

The first comes this week as he is one of six lecturers at the Mathematical Association of America centennial celebration in Washington, D.C.

Described as the professional home of thousands of mathematicians who share a passion for the subject, the association is the largest society that focuses on math accessible to undergrads. Members include university, college and high school teachers as well as students, scientists, statisticians and others from government, industry and business.

The association's members discuss things like changes in their fields. And Castillo-Chavez said the biggest changes of the last century of math education have come in the past decade and a half.

“The big changes over the last decade and a half has been probably what is called data mines,” he said.

The enormous amount of computer-generated data has exploded, enabling researchers to apply analytical mathematical models to subjects like the behavior of diseased populations, a specialty of Castillo-Chavez.

“How do we build models that respond to questions that are being developed about diseases like ebola?”

Next week he will travel to Beijing, China, to receive the most prestigious award from the world’s top applied mathematics organization, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics’ Prize for Distinguished Service to the Profession, at the International Congress in Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Applied mathematics is the use of math to solve practical problems.

“I look at people who have received it before with tremendous contributions to the role of mathematics to research,” Castillo-Chavez said of the SIAM prize. “To be in that category has been exciting.”

At Arizona State University Castillo-Chavez is a Regents' Professor, elite tenured faculty who are regarded as particularly distinguished in their field of study, as well as a Joaquin Bustoz Jr. Professor of Mathematical Biology and a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist.

He uses mathematical biology – representing, treating and modeling biological processes with math – to study how diseases evolve.

Some of the more than 200 publications he has co-authored include papers on SARS outbreaks in Hong Kong and Singapore; ebola in the Congo and Uganda; and mathematical modeling of how tuberculosis spreads.

Castillo-Chavez is the founding director of the Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center and the graduate field in applied mathematics in the life and social sciences, or AMLSS, at ASU. Nineteen students have earned AMLSS doctorates, and 14 of those were earned by minority students.

Castillo-Chavez is well-known for mentoring minority and at-risk students in science, technology, engineering and math. Of his 33 doctoral students, 17 have been Latino and 12 women. Three years ago he was appointed director of STEM Programs for Underrepresented Minorities at ASU. He also runs a summer math program which brings students from all over the country to ASU.

His previous recognitions include two White House awards and an appointment by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science in 2010. That appointment runs through this year.