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Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah from Pennsylvania’s 2nd district, which includes Penn, announced the award of a $510,000 grant to the University of Pennsylvania for the study of algebraic geometry and physics.

“Examining the boundary lines of algebraic geometry and physics has been advantageous as scholars in their separate investigations of math and physics have discovered the potential of blending the sciences,” Fattah said in his announcement.

Now through the summer, Fattah will stand trial for federal corruption charges. He is being accused of allegedly taking a $1 million campaign loan for his failed 2007 mayoral campaign and misusing funds to pay the loan back.

The grant will fund continued research by mathematics Professor Ron Donagi. Donagi has been investigating the interaction between mathematics and physics for over 15 years. His research is often applied to developments in quantum mechanics and string theory.

Donagi’s proposal was selected by the National Science Foundation from a pool of competitive applicants from other international research institutions. Only about 25 to 30 percent of the proposals will receive funding, Donagi said. However, a much smaller percentage receive the level of attention granted to his latest proposal, as it received overwhelmingly positive reviews during the decision process.

Algebraic geometry is the study of spaces described by arbitrary equations. Physicists find this branch of mathematics particularly useful when working with small length scales, as in quantum mechanics.

In his research, Donagi works with his colleagues in physics to get an understanding of the problem, then fits a mathematical model to the physical situation. His research network includes professors from France, Germany, Japan and other nations.

“It’s a very tight-knit but international community,” Donagi said.

This particular grant will last four years, one year longer than the typical NSF grant in mathematical sciences. The funds will help pay for summer salaries, support from graduate students, travel, computers and other equipment.

For Donagi, the grant is part of continued progress in his research endeavors at Penn. Last year he received a similar grant from the Simons Foundation, originated by renowned mathematician and hedge fund manager Jim Simons. In addition to continuing to publish his findings, Donagi hopes to someday write a textbook on mathematical physics.

Donagi began his work with particle physics after learning of a major breakthrough over the radio. Upon congratulating Professor Edward Witten at Princeton University for his role in the discovery, Donagi was invited to collaborate in his next research project. Since then the two have published multiple papers together.

Donagi helped to create the “Math-Physics Joint Seminar” at Penn, a group that meets weekly and invites various guests to speak about the frontiers of discovery in the two fields. In the meantime, he teaches courses on algebraic geometry, string theory and calculus.

“We have a good program, great graduate students and postdocs. It’s fun to work here,” Donagi said.

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