Home > News and Events > 2000 > Higson Receives C. I. Noll Award for Teaching

Higson Receives C. I. Noll Award for Teaching

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Sponsored by the Eberly College of Science Student Council and Alumni Society, the award is the college's highest honor for undergraduate teaching.  The winner is chosen by a committee of students and faculty from the nominees suggested by students, faculty, and alumni.  The award includes a monetary grant and the inscription of Higson's name on a plaque alongside previous C. I. Noll Award winners.  Higson donated the monetary award to the Mary Lister McCammon Scholarship in Mathematics, saying he wanted to express his "appreciation for Mary McCammon's accomplishments as long-time head of the undergraduate mathematics program at Penn State."

Higson has been teaching mathematics at Penn State since 1989.  He has consistently received extremely high evaluations from his graduate and undergraduate students.  Typical student comments refer to his ability to explain complex subjects clearly, his enthusiasm and sense of humor, and his willingness to work with students outside class time and on the Internet.  "In addition to being a highly talented and original mathematician, Nigel Higson is an outstanding teacher.  He has a quite stunning ability to think on his feet, developing analogies and examples that reflect an engaging sense of humor," says George E. Andrews, Evan Pugh Professor of Mathematics.  "Many excellent mathematicians have struggled with the challenge of communicating effectively with students.  Nigel shows us the way it should be done."

In addition to his teaching, Higson has served as Associate Department Chair and he is one of the three principal investigators for the VIGRE (Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences) grant.  This grant, the largest ever received by the department, provides $3,000,000 over a five-year period to improve mathematical instruction at all levels.

Professor Higson's research specialty is operator algebra theory, a subject with roots in the mathematical foundations of quantum theory and in Fourier analysis.  "These two antecedents have come to be synthesized in a remarkable way, with quite powerful consequences in topology and geometry," he says.  Higson's recent work has focussed on the Baum-Connes conjecture, a broad program that connects operator algebra theory to problems in differential topology, Riemannian geometry, and various areas of representation theory.  Along with Paul Baum, Evan Pugh Professor of Mathematics at Penn State, and Alain Connes, their coworker in Paris, Higson is responsible for the current form of this conjecture.

In recognition of his research accomplishments, Higson was awarded a Sloan Fellowship and won Canada's Aisenstadt Medal, Coxeter-James Prize, and Halperin Prize--all of which recognize young mathematicians who have made outstanding contributions to mathematical research.  He has delivered plenary addresses to the American and Canadian Mathematical Societies, and in 1998 he delivered an invited lecture to the International Congress of Mathematicians in Berlin.  In 1999, he was named a Clay Mathematics Institute Prize Fellow.

Higson earned three degrees at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia: a bachelor of arts in 1982, a master of science in 1983 and a  doctoral degree in 1986.  He was a postdoctoral fellow at Dalhousie in 1986.  From 1986 to 1990, Higson was an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  He joined the Penn State faculty as an assistant professor in 1986 and was promoted to associate professor in 1990, to professor in 1994, and was named Distinguished Professor of Mathematics in January 2000.  He has held visiting appointments at several universities in North America and Europe, including the Stanislaw Ulam professorship at the University of Colorado in 1996.

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