New Faculty
Christopher Kottke Tamarkin Assistant Professor of Mathematics Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Christopher Kottke
Tamarkin Assistant Professor of Mathematics

By Richard C. Lewis  |  September 1, 2010  |  Email to a friend

At some point, Chris Kottke knew he had to make a choice.

He had completed two years of studying math and physics at Tufts University, but he interrupted those studies to attend the Berklee College of Music, indulging his love of playing the jazz trumpet.

“I had to decide what would be my livelihood,” he said of his year at Berklee, “and jazz musician was not the wisest choice economically.”

So Kottke returned to Tufts. That decision has turned out to be good for him and for Brown, as the 28-year-old this fall steps on to campus as the Tamarkin Assistant Professor of Mathematics. He will teach Math 035, Honors Calculus.

Kottke also will concentrate on his research interests, which broadly fall into the realm between analysis — specifically with differential equations — and topology. To explain, Kottke says that a coffee cup and a donut are, as two-dimensional objects, the same thing topologically. Imagine the donut is made of Silly Putty. You can wad it, mold it, smooth it, so that eventually, the donut hole becomes the hole in the handle of the coffee cup.

“In topology, everything is malleable,” Kottke says, “like infinitely stretching rubber.”

How does this all relate to math? Differential equations, a standard bearer in math, are “pretty rigid most of the time, but sometimes they turn out to be much more flexible, depending only on the topology of the space.”

Mathematicians have come up with a short cut of sorts. Topology provides a direction in which to go to gain insight into otherwise difficult problems. “So, we’re looking at things to tell these topological spaces apart, up to this malleability,” he says.

Kottke grew up in Boulder, Colo., and, although he misses the Rocky Mountains, he has made New England home. After graduating summa cum laude from Tufts (B.A., mathematics and physics, 2004), Kottke earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009.

When he’s not teaching or working on his research, Kottke, who lives outside Boston with his wife, Kaylan Adair (a children’s book editor), pops up on the jazz scene. He’s played gigs at several locales, including The Fireplace, the Bee Hive, Ryles Jazz Club and the Lily Pad.