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Meakin earns Fulbright to teach, research in India

John Meakin, a UNL professor of mathematics, has earned a Fulbright-Nehru Scholarship to teach and conduct research in India for five months alongside a longtime colleague. (Craig Chandler, University Communications)
John Meakin, a UNL professor of mathematics, has earned a Fulbright-Nehru Scholarship to teach and conduct research in India for five months alongside a longtime colleague. (Craig Chandler, University Communications)

Early in his career as a mathematician, John Meakin submitted a paper on the structure of a class of algebraic objects known as inverse semigroups, hoping to have his research published. The journal editor was impressed, but ultimately, Meakin had been “blown out of the water,” as he put it, by a brilliant young man in India.

Instead of starting over, Meakin reached out to this mathematician who shared his research interests half a world away and they embarked on a decades-long, albeit sporadic, collaborative working relationship.

Now, that research collaboration will be renewed. Meakin, a UNL professor of mathematics, has earned a Fulbright-Nehru Scholarship to teach and conduct research in India for five months alongside his colleague.

Meakin will depart in December for Thiruvananthapuram and will teach at the University of Kerala.

“I’ve had a long-standing connection with people in that region,” Meakin said. “I spent one year there engaged in collaborative research, so professionally, it makes a lot of sense to go there. It is a place of particular research interest to me.”

It is an opportunity that Meakin relishes. Since 1978, he has spent only limited time in India, during which time many advances have been made there in semigroup theory, one of his primary research specialties. Semigroup theory is a branch of modern algebra that is concerned with transformations between mathematical objects, and as such it arises in many areas of mathematics.

His Indian colleague, K.S.S. Nambooripad, started an internationally acclaimed school devoted to the theory of von Neumann regular semigroups and their connections with other areas of mathematics. Von Neumann regular semigroups arise very naturally in mathematics, for example, when studying algebraic properties of matrix multiplication, or more generally in the modern theory of operator algebras.

Much of Meakin’s work has focused on algorithmic problems in semigroup theory and connections between semigroups and other areas of mathematics and theoretical computer science -- particularly geometric group theory, automata theory, formal language theory, topology, geometry and mathematical logic.

“This seemed like a good opportunity to go back and renew my working relationship with Prof. Nambooripad and sort of pick his brain a bit,” Meakin said. “Not only him, but he’s established a whole school of very good people there.

“This school has developed a deep theory of regular semigroups, which is at the forefront of research in this particular area. And so, it’s of great interest to me to keep abreast of what’s going on and actually start working again with these people.”

Meakin also will be teaching a graduate course, gathering material for a future research-level textbook and helping host a series of regional workshops for students and faculty in small colleges in Kerala, as well as a large international research conference in Cochin. Meakin also will work with researchers from Cochin University and Calcutta University.

“I’ll be establishing contacts between the university there and some of the emerging and established science and mathematics institutes in India,” he said.

Meakin said his multi-faceted Fulbright proposal seems daunting, but said the components are interconnected -- and that he looks forward to meeting and working with many people with similar research interests.

“I bring a somewhat different research perspective to the table with different experiences that will blend with their ideas,” Meakin said. “I bring ideas from different parts of mathematics and plan to combine them with ideas from the Kerala school.

“Hopefully, the result will be fruitful.”

-- Deann Gayman, University Communications