Welcome to the February edition of our eNewsletter. We are grateful to have this monthly opportunity to communicate with our alumni and friends and share some of the wonderful things we've been doing here at the college.

Each year, we honor our outstanding faculty and staff members at our annual college awards banquet for the excellent work they do within the college. We recently held our banquet for 2011 and recognized a number of individuals for their great contributions to the college and our students.

Four faculty members and one administrative staff member received college awards recognizing their accomplishments. Both Jennifer Nielson of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Tim Leishman of the Department of Physics and Astronomy were acknowledged for their excellence in teaching and classroom instruction; Jennifer as a faculty member here fewer than 10 years and Tim as a faculty member here for 10 or more years.

Kent Gee, also of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, received the Faculty Young Scholar Award, recognizing excellent scholarship for a faculty member at BYU for less than 10 years.

Additionally, Paul Farnsworth of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry received the Distinguished Citizenship Award for his significant service contributions in his department, and staff member Kim Christensen was recognized for his exemplary service as the business manager in the same department.

Similarly, we also recognized several staff and administrative members for their many years of distinguished service to the college and university.

Both Janet Fonoimoana and Gordon Billings received awards recognizing their five years of service, while Mark Erickson and Wayne Anderson were honored for their 10 and 15 years, respectively.

Keith Kling was recognized for his 25 years, and Bruce Jackson and Wes Lifferth (both with 30 years) and Scott Daniel and Wayne Peterson (both with 35 years) were honored for their many years of dedicated service.

It's always a pleasure to be able to highlight the efforts and achievements of our many accomplished faculty and staff members. As we strive to perform cutting-edge research and provide students with a world-class education here in the college, the majority of the responsibility falls on this group of diligent men and women — and they always respond admirably.

Without their hard work and dedication, I'm not quite sure where we would be. We are thankful for their service — and we are also thankful to you for being a part of our college family, and for your continued support.

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Mathematics professor Lennard Bakker has been looking above to answer age-old questions about the universe.

"One of the most inspiring questions in celestial mechanics is why is the solar system stable," Bakker said. "Why does it keep repeating itself? Can Newtonian gravity explain it?"

Commenting about this, Jurgen Moser, a leading mathematician in celestial mechanics in the 20th century said: "The answer is still unknown, and yet this question has led to very deep results which probably are more important than the answer to the … question." This type of a return on investment in research is typical in mathematics.

In some ways, Bakker's research can be compared to a game of pool — only with cosmic billiard balls. When celestial objects collide, both objects sometimes rebound intact, with an elastic bounce that continues beyond the point of impact. Although such collisions are rare, these types of motions must be understood in order to have a complete picture of the mathematical consequences of Newtonian gravity.

Using a computer program to simulate the gravitational interactions, Bakker investigates how celestial objects form and may change their pattern of motion, depending on their masses and initial placements. By representing the celestial objects as colored dots on the computer screen, he can simulate stable or unstable behaviors occurring in space in an easy to understand visual model. For Bakker, this is a fun way to help others understand his research.

"A big part of what I love about celestial mechanics," said Bakker, "is that I can show people a movie — the computer generated simulation — of the research I have done, without them having to understand the mathematics used in that research."

— Meghan Fletcher, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences


For more information about the college, contact Lynn Patten at lynn_patten@byu.edu.
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