Dr. Alexei Miasnikov, director of the Department of Mathematical Sciences and distinguished professor at Stevens Institute of Technology has been awarded the highly renowned Malcev Prize from the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS). The prize, also awarded to collaborator Olga Kharlampovich, is named for the illustrious scientist and academician Anatoly Malcev.
The Russian Academy cites Miasnikov for his lifetime achievements, and series of scientific works in, "research on fundamental theoretical and modeling problems of algebra."
“Alexei is a great mathematician, researcher and teacher and very deserving of this distinction. His latest work in developing innovative methods of teaching calculus will benefit thousands of students around the globe,” says George Korfiatis, provost and executive vice-president of Stevens Institute of Technology. “My warm wishes and congratulations for this important recognition.”
Intersecting Genius: Malcev and Miasnikov
Growing up in Russia, Miasnikov demonstrated a propensity for mathematics, which was encouraged by his older brother, also a mathematician, who is now a prominent businessman and investor in the hi-tech sector. For a time, Miasnikov also considered a career as a professional athlete, as a basketball player, but became more captivated by mathematics.
As a youth, Miasnikov idolized Malcev, whose most important work focused on algebra and mathematical logic. From 1932 to 1960 Malcev taught mathematics at the Ivanovo Pedagogical Institute in Ivanovo, rising from assistant to head of the Department of Algebra.
Malcev also served at the Mathematical Institute of the Academy in Moscow from 1941 to 1960, after that he became head of the department of algebra at the Mathematical Institute of the Siberian branch of the Academy in Novosibirsk as well as head of the chair of algebra and mathematical logic at the Novosibirsk State University—where Miasnikov eventually conducted his own studies—in the mathematical sciences, before emigrating to the United States.
“Malcev was one of those genius mathematicians who was still so open to new ideas and new things,” says Miasnikov, who studied in the tradition of a classical education, with an aim to transfer to future generations the knowledge, culture, and traditions preserved and passed on by our forebears.
“I was lucky to study there, and then so many doors were open to me,” says Miasnikov. “I still have friends who were then my peers, and are still great cohorts.”
Novosibirsk State University is one of the most famous universities in Russia, located several miles from the city of Novosibirsk, the cultural and industrial center of Siberia. At Novosibirsk State University, Miasnikov took math classes in a great lecture hall in which hung a large portrait of Malcev.
“He was there—always looking back at me,” he says.
Miasnikov’s award comes at a critical time in the legacy of the Russian Academy, which recently faced an uncertain future.
Founded in 1724 by the emperor Peter the Great, the venerable Academy, headquartered in Moscow, is a network of scientific research institutes from across the Russian Federation; and additional scientific and social units such as libraries, publishing units, and hospitals. The Academy includes some 500 institutions and 55,000 scientific researchers.
In recent years, the Academy endured a shift in its organizational structure and shrinking budget, which temporarily threatened the future of basic research in Russia, causing considerable worry in the academic community. However, the appointment of a new RAS president halted the fierce debate surrounding reformation of the Academy, at least for the foreseeable future.
Revolutionizing Calculus Pedagogy and Practice
A world-class mathematician, in 2012, Miasnikov was selected as an inaugural Fellow of the American Mathematical Society for his outstanding portfolio of research contributions to the mathematical sciences. He has served in several faculty positions including head of the Laboratory of Applied Logic at his alma mater, Novosibirsk State University; Professor at Omsk University; full professor and doctoral faculty member at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) and Canada Research Chair at McGill University.
Miasnikov has been instrumental in revolutionizing calculus instruction at Stevens by developing with his colleagues Gradarius, an online learning platform to provide students with flexibility while nurturing their capability to solve calculus problems logically and sequentially, leading to a better understanding of calculus topics.
Due in large part to this remarkable new method of teaching calculus, the Schaefer School of Engineering & Science (SES) experienced a remarkable 94% retention rate among its first year students during the 2014-2015 academic year, and an even higher passing rate among calculus students.
“We’ve made problem-solving interactive,” says Miasnikov. “We don’t want them just to do exercises,” he says. “They have to think—we help teach students through a natural process towards greater understanding, comprehension and success.”