Postdoctoral Research Award 2014
Clayton Shonkwiler, a postdoctoral associate in the department of mathematics, has been at the center of a very exciting set of breakthroughs in the understanding and simulation of polymers, which are long flexible molecules composed of chains of smaller units. These molecules can take many shapes and their chemical and biological properties are strongly influenced by the probability theory of the distribution of shapes. In the case of polymers with free ends, this distribution has been understood since the early twentieth century, but polymers whose ends are joined to form loops have resisted similar analysis until now. Shonkwiler used an unexpected connection to symplectic geometry, a branch of mathematics originally invented to study orbital mechanics, to solve this problem. His work will play a fundamental role in understanding DNA minicircles, which are a key technology in gene therapy. Next fall, Shonkwiler will join the faculty of Colorado State University as an assistant professor of mathematics.