New Faculty
Armen Vagharshakyan Tamarkin Assistant Professor of Mathematics Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Armen Vagharshakyan
Tamarkin Assistant Professor of Mathematics

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

In 2006, Armen Vagharshakyan was traveling to the United States when he was asked to explain, in the simplest terms possible, what he works on. His questioner was not a fellow scientist. It was a U.S. homeland security agent.

Vagharshakyan [vah-har-shak-YAHN], who was coming from Armenia to begin his graduate studies in America, explained that he works in math. “I said it’s an advanced kind of calculus, and he was satisfied with that,” he says with a smile.

In reality, the research interests of Vagharshakyan, a Tamarkin Assistant Professor of Mathematics, are more complicated. They fall generally in the realm of harmonic analysis, pioneered by the French mathematician Joseph Fourier.

“Imagine you’re playing a musical instrument that has strings,” Vagharshakyan explained. “The strings vibrate, and you want to describe how.”

Just as Fourier sought to explain mathematically how an instrument’s strings vibrated, Vagharshakyan said he enjoys seeking to describe the “inner mechanics” of various problems. He’s currently figuring out how to plot points on incompletely described three-dimensional objects in order to restore them.

“It’s like a style of driving. You apply that style to different problems,” he said.

The 26-year-old Vagharshakyan comes to Brown from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he earned his Ph.D. He attended Yerevan State University, where he earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in math.

Vagharshakyan may have had math in his genes. His father taught math at the university level, while his mother taught Russian at a local high school. “My father wanted me to study his problems, but they weren’t interesting for me. He was disappointed,” Vagharshakyan said with a sly smile.

His father quickly got over it. One thing that kept Vagharshakyan interested in math, he said, is that the central tenets and methods remain relatively static, meaning that in a small country like Armenia, “you’re somehow secure that you’ll get the knowledge” and it will remain relevant, he said.

When he’s not teaching and working on his research, Vagharshakyan will be immersed in what he calls his “cultural semester.” Last spring, it was all things Italian; this fall, it will be all things Spanish, including sitting in on language classes at Brown and living with a Spanish roommate.

“You learn a lot, you mix with people, and it’s really interesting,” he said.