Mathematics Professor Martin Weissman wins 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship

Martin Weissman
Martin Weissman

Martin Weissman, professor of mathematics at UC Santa Cruz, has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2020. Weissman will use the $50,000 award to support his work on the visualization of prime numbers.

Weissman is one of 175 writers, scholars, artists, and scientists chosen this year from among nearly 3,000 applicants for recognition by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

Weissman's research involves number theory, representation theory, and geometry, and he has a particular interest in design and information visualization. His 2018 book An Illustrated Theory of Numbers won acclaim for its novel approach to visualizing concepts in mathematics.

The Guggenheim Fellowship will support a new project, which he plans to begin in 2021, to convey the nature of prime numbers through a series of 60 images. According to Weissman, visualization can allow both experts and non-experts to explore data in new ways, and prime numbers can be thought of as the most important data set in mathematics. The primes are often called the “building blocks” of arithmetic.

“My hope is to visualize the nature of prime numbers, from ancient history to the current research,” he said. “I want to create images that convey not just a mathematical form—a shape or pattern native to mathematicians—but which convey a mathematical narrative. I hope to create didactic art that provides a visual mathematical experience.

Weissman said he envisions publishing this work as a book about prime numbers, driven by images and written for a scientifically literate public.

Weissman earned his Ph.D. in mathematics at Harvard University in 2003 and joined the UCSC faculty in 2006.