Smith College Professor Recognized for Her Groundbreaking
Mass. – Smith College Professor Ileana Streinu today will receive a prestigious
award for mathematical research addressing a longstanding fundamental problem in
geometry, with applications in robotics and computational biology.
Streinu, the Charles N. Clark Professor of Computer
Science and Mathematics at Smith and a Five Colleges 40th Anniversary Professor,
accepted the accolade at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Francisco.
The David P. Robbins Prize from the American Mathematical
Society (AMS) is awarded every three years for a paper that reports on novel research
in algebra, combinatorics or discrete mathematics. Streinu was honored for her algorithmic
solution of the “carpenter’s rule problem,” which asks whether
any polygonal chain – a connected series of line segments – can be continuously
straightened out in a way that avoids self-intersections.
In Streinu’s explanation, the polygon edges are
taken as rigid, but the vertices are joints that allow rotation, turning a mathematical
object into a simplified model of a robotic arm. While the carpenter's rule is confined
to two dimensions, robots – like humans – are three-dimensional. They
may get entangled in space, but - as the carpenter's rule result shows - the two-dimensional
The key comes down to expanding the distances between
the joints, says Streinu, who spent years examining the problem who has intrigued
mathematicians for more than three decades.
In granting the award, the AMS called Streinu’s
paper “beautiful and highly original.” Titled “Pseudo-triangulations,
Rigidity and Motion Planning,” the paper was published in the journal Discrete & Computational
Geometry in 2005.
Streinu’s research was supported by funding from
the National Science Foundation and by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s “Mathematical
Challenges,” as well as Smith, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and
sabbatical visiting positions.
Streinu’s most recent work extends in multidisciplinary
directions, ranging from robotics and origami to the emerging fields of bio- and
nano-geometry, where she is pursuing mathematical questions arising in studies of
flexibility, rigidity and motions for macromolecules.
After receiving her doctorate in computer science from
Rutgers University and doctorate in mathematics from the University of Bucharest,
Romania, both in 1994, Streinu began teaching at Smith. She has also held visiting
positions at the Technical University in Berlin, Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris,
Stanford University, Kyoto University and the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya
Founded in 1888 to further mathematical research and
scholarship, today the American Mathematical Society has more than 32,000 members.
Smith College educates women of promise for lives of
distinction. One of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, Smith
enrolls 2,800 students from nearly every state and 62 other countries.