Noah Caplinger is a graduating senior who is intent on pursuing a career in mathematics. Having been accepted into the University of Chicago graduate program, one of the top programs in the world, we wanted to take one last opportunity to speak with Noah before he continues on his inspiring path.
Interview by Dan Margalit
What made you interested in majoring in mathematics?
Initially I wanted to be a chemist, but my 11th grade chemistry class put a stop to that pretty quick. That semester, I was taking calculus at my local university with a great professor, Dr. Hu. He was always happy to entertain my questions and I spent a lot of time in his office hours talking to him about math. Because of him, I took as much math as my dual enrollment program would allow, and here I am. I'm not sure I knew what I was getting into at the time, but I'm quite happy where I ended up.
I'll give you two answers. The most rewarding was MATH 1564, "Linear algebra with abstract vector spaces" with Shahaf Nitzan---it was my first "real" math class and I learned tons of linear algebra. It set the tone for the rest of my math degree. The most fun was Dan Margalit's special topics class in geometric group theory, which I think is the topic I'll end up specializing in.
Favorite math-related activity?
The mapping class group lunch with Dan Margalit's research group. Once a week, everyone who studies mapping class groups in the department gets together to eat lunch. It's a great little social group, and I've learned quite a bit when the conversations inevitably turn to math.
What are you most proud of?
Two things come to mind. First, there is my research paper with Nick Salter, a professor at Notre Dame. In the paper (called "Totally Symmetric sets in the General Linear Group"), we classified totally symmetric sets in the general linear group (totally symmetric sets are a relatively new concept used for understanding group homomorphisms). I have hope that some of the ideas we developed will be used and built upon in the future, which is very exciting.
My other big project was my book, "Chess Algorithms". Chess programming (programming computers to play chess) was one of my hobbies in high school. I was very frustrated by the quality of chess exposition available on the internet, so I decided to write some notes. I initially planned for only 40 pages, but I ended up with a book, which is available on Amazon. It was a massive project that I'm quite proud of.
Favorite non-math activity?
Badminton Club for sure. I've played three times a week for almost all of the past four years. Friday nights usually involved playing until they kick us out of the CRC, then (sweaty and smelly) going out for Chinese food and Boba.
I heard you like writing. Is that right?
Yup. I always hated my English classes, but eventually I figured out that writing is lots of fun when you actually care about the topic. Chess Algorithms was just the start---my summer project is to write some notes on group theory solely from the perspective of group actions. Hopefully one day it'll turn into a book!
The dream is to go pro---into academia as a research mathematician. I want to do and write and talk about math for the rest of my life.