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Arlie O. Petters Receives First Blackwell-Tapia Prize

The selection committee for the David Blackwell and Richard A. Tapia Prize is pleased to announce that Dr. Arlie O. Petters has been selected as the first recipient of the award. The Blackwell-Tapia Prize has been established by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute and Cornell University in honor of David Blackwell and Richard A. Tapia, distinguished mathematical scientists who have been inspirations to more than a generation of African American and Hispanic American students and professionals in the mathematical sciences. The prize will be presented every other year to a mathematical scientist who has contributed significantly to his or her field of expertise, and who has served as a role model for mathematical scientists and students from under-represented minority groups or contributed in other significant ways to the addressing of the problem of the under-representation of minorities in mathematics.

Dr. Petters is the William and Sue Gross Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics at Duke University, where he works on problems in mathematical physics. His current research interests include the development of a rigorous mathematical theory of light deflection in gravitational fields and the investigation of the observational consequences of the theorems in such a theory. His many awards and honors include Dukeís Bass Chair in Recognition of Excellence in Research and Teaching, a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Award, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, and induction into the Hall of Fame of Hunter College of the City University of New York.

Dr. Petters emigrated from Belize to the United States in 1979 and became a U.S. citizen in 1990. After receiving his Bachelorís and Masterís degrees in mathematics and physics from Hunter College at C.U.N.Y, he won a Bell Laboratories Cooperative Research Fellowship to continue his graduate studies. He did his doctoral work in mathematics at MIT and Princeton, receiving his Ph.D. from MIT in 1991 under the direction of Bertram Kostant (MIT) and David Spergel (Princeton). His thesis title was Singularities in Gravitational Microlensing. After five years on the mathematics faculty of Princeton, he accepted the William and Sue Gross Chair at Duke, and became Dukeís first tenured African American in mathematics.

A popular and effective advisor and mentor of undergraduates, Dr. Petters was presented the 1996 Service Award of the Princetonians of Color Network. He is a frequent guest speaker at events for minority students at all levels from elementary through graduate school. The excitement with which he describes his work is infectious. As a co-organizer for the Seventh Conference for African American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences, held at Duke in 2001, he has helped bring together minority professionals with graduate students to help foster mentoring relationships and provide the students with evidence that others from backgrounds like their own are succeeding in mathematics-based fields.

The award will be presented at a conference to be held at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute on November 1-2, 2002.

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