Distinguished Professor Finds Beauty in the Pursuit of Mathematical Understanding

Alexander Its, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor, Mathematical Sciences

Listening to acclaimed mathematics professor Alexander Its, it’s possible for people to contemplate a career in math if they are dedicated and willing to see the beauty of math much as they would look for significance in a piece of art.

“To choose your occupation—to be a mathematician—you don’t have to be a mathematical genius,” says Its. “The most important thing is to like it, to love it, to really want it.”

Compared to art, Its concedes, what makes math different is that its meaning is much more difficult to convey. “Mathematics takes time and desire. To do a good job, you need to be devoted, interested,” Its says. “Of course it is great to be talented and gifted – you can achieve a lot – but to do a good job is to just want it.”

As an Indiana University Distinguished Professor of mathematics, Its has been committed to tackling some of math’s most challenging problems since his earliest days studying and teaching in Leningrad, USSR. Since coming to the United States in 1990, he has worked tirelessly on research involving partial differential equations and related aspects of spectral theory and algebraic geometry, soliton theory and exactly solvable quantum field models.

He and professor Michal Misiurewicz, also of the Department of Mathematical Science at IUPUI, were honored as inaugural fellows of the American Mathematical Society in November 2012They were among 1,100 international mathematicians recognized for their outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication and utilization of mathematics.

In the summer of 2012, a workshop, Integrable Systems and Random Matrices, was held in honor of Professor Its at the Institut Henri Poincare in Paris.

Although Its spends a significant amount of time working at his desk on research, he doesn’t discount the importance of being a part of the global mathematical community. Almost all of his recent projects have resulted from his travels to conferences and interacting with colleagues in the field.

“It might sound surprising,” Its observes, “but in spite of today’s dramatic advances in communication technology, the role of in-person contacts between mathematicians has not been at all diminished.”

Even the greatest mathematicians—the few names you hear, those producing great concepts and solving great problems—can’t do their work in a vacuum,” Its continues. “You always need some sort of environment; you need community.”

Its has spent the past 20 years at IUPUI and believes the School of Science has much to offer math students.

We have excellent faculty in the School of Science as a whole, and in our math department, in particular,” says Its. “The scientific community knows this, and because our faculty is so good and well known, we can really promote our students and help them gain the best placements.”

In addition to being named a Distinguished Professor of IU, Its was chosen by the London Mathematical Society as its 2002 Hardy Fellow and selected by the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities as one of its 2009 Batsheva de Rothchild Fellows. To date, Its has published more than 95 research papers and five books, and given 161 invited lectures at leading institutions and scientific meetings all over the world.

A distinguished panel of Its peers has described him as “one of the best applied mathematicians of our time” and his work as “definitive, revolutionary and transformative.”