Robert Pego Appointed Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Robert Pego Appointed Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University

PITTSBURGH — Robert Pego, a distinguished scientist with expertise in dynamic scaling and the study of nonlinear waves, has been appointed a professor of mathematical sciences at Carnegie Mellon University.

“Robert’s arrival adds considerably to the department’s strength in nonlinear analysis. His research contributes in fundamental ways to understanding general phenomena in physics, biology and chemistry,” said Roy Nicolaides, department head.

“Carnegie Mellon is a home for interdisciplinary studies that relate materials science and nonlinear analysis, so my interest in coming here was natural,” said Pego.

In one research focus, Pego studies nonlinear partial differential equations to unravel dynamic scaling laws in complex systems. The aim is to provide explanations for how simple behaviors emerge from complicated dynamics. One example is the diffusion of atoms in a solution.

“People are trained to believe that solutions spread into normal distributions, but there is a whole zoo of other possibilities,” noted Pego. “As you adapt the scale of measurement, you can even see chaotic dynamics.”

In collaboration with scientists at the National Institutes of Health, Pego has developed a mathematical model to interpret how gene-regulating factors diffuse within living cells. Understanding these intracellular dynamics is important for determining how quickly cells respond to environmental changes.

Dynamic scaling studies are also important in aerosol science, for understanding how smog particles cluster together, and in astrophysics, for deciphering how particles in the universe assemble into clumps of matter.

In a second research focus, Pego studies nonlinear wave motions in fluids and in systems of interacting particles. His latest work explains the shape of a wave pulse traveling through a row of particles such as steel balls.

“If the particles were perfectly rigid bodies, collisions between them would be instantaneous and the pulse would have no shape,” said Pego. “Therefore, steel balls are not truly hard spheres!”

Ultimately, this work could aid the understanding of how chemical reactions in molecular chains proceed, according to Pego, because these reactions may be driven by energy pulses.

Pego comes to Carnegie Mellon from a professorship at the University of Maryland, where he spent 14 years in the Department of Mathematics. Prior to his appointment at Maryland, he was an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and before that, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin. Pego received his A.B. in mathematics from the University of Chicago and his doctorate in applied mathematics from the University of California at Berkeley.

For the past 20 years, his work has been continuously supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF). He is on the editorial board of the SIAM Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applied Mathematics Research Express.

The Department of Mathematical Sciences at the Mellon College of Science is one of the top-ranked in the country for applied mathematics. Funded by the NSF, the department’s Center for Nonlinear Analysis focuses on research and training in nonlinear analysis, mechanics, scientific computation and mathematical finance.

By: Lauren Ward