What is your research about?
My research involves using mathematics to understand human behavior and has largely focused on criminal behavior. I try to use math to help predict, solve, and defend against crimes. This research has led to tangible societal benefits, including a software program now in use by several police departments, including Atlanta's, that helps police better predict where crimes may occur today
What has been the most exciting time so far in your research life?
The most exciting time was probably when I was still a young graduate student and everything was so new. I still remember when my first paper was accepted for publication: It gave me a huge sense of validation and served as a tangible symbol of my entrance into academia as a researcher.
How did you find your way to mathematics research?
My path to mathematics research was not direct, as my degrees are all in physics. But the division between physics and applied math is a bit blurry, and given my own research interests, math made a bit more sense. So after obtaining my PhD, I went to the UCLA math department for my postdoc, and have been in math since then.
One early influence that led me on this winding path was watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos when I was a child. I still remember being in awe of the idea that you could explain the universe through equations. I knew at that time that I had to be a part of that.
What advice would you give to a college freshman who wants to be a mathematician?
I would advise them that mathematics is a huge field and that they should explore all the possibilities that being a mathematician can bring. They might end up really liking very pure, abstract math, or more applied topics. And they should explore all the future careers that can be had with a mathematics degree, outside of the obvious track into academia.
If you could not be a mathematician, in what line of work would you be now?
The answer depends on whether we are constrained to reality, or I'm allowed to give a more fanciful answer. I could simply say that I'd be a physicist, and my job would not be much different. If I'm allowed to dream, I would probably choose to be an author, as I've always loved reading and writing creatively. Or maybe a chef, because I love food and cooking.
What is the most exciting thing about being a part of Georgia Tech?
Just the atmosphere at Tech is so exciting. The students are all so great and motivated, and the research here is really cutting edge. Georgia Tech is a really positive place.
What are you most surprised about in your encounters with Georgia Tech students?
The students here have really great attitudes toward learning and take that with them to the classroom. This always surprises me, pleasantly, as it is not generally true across all campuses.
What is an unusual skill, talent, or quality you have that is not obvious to your colleagues?
I enjoy working with my hands, and I am a competent handy man around the house. I've done various things around our home, from re-plumbing our swimming pool, to installing a top-mounted chimney damper, to building raised garden beds.
What is your ideal way of relaxing?
I enjoy just lying on a raft in my aforementioned pool on a warm summer day, listening to the breeze whistling through the trees and the chirping of birds. Throw in a nice cold beverage and I'm all set. For me, relaxing often means turning off my brain for a while so that it can recharge. I think I have been able to strike a healthy balance between work and leisure, so that I don't feel starved for relaxation.
What three destinations are still in your travel to-do list?
One nice perk of being an academic is that you get to travel a lot, so that many places that were on my list have been crossed off by now. I would like to visit a South Pacific island, like Tahiti, for obvious reasons. I love trying new foods that are unconventional, at least to a Western palate, so enjoying some food tourism in a country like Thailand or Vietnam would be great. Finally, I'd really like to visit Ireland, for the beautiful green countryside and the pubs.
If you won $10 Million in a lottery, what would you do with it?
I'm not really into possessions as much as experiences, so I don't think I would go nuts buying huge homes or elaborate automobiles. After setting aside money for my daughter's future and for retirement purposes, I'd use the rest to fund travel and dinners at amazing restaurants, things of that nature. I'm somewhat miserly, so I doubt I would run through all of that money in my lifetime.