Math prof puts algebraic geometry in motion. That’s our theory, anyway.
by Coleman Cornelius | Photograph by John Eisele
In his scholarly time, Renzo Cavalieri studies and mathematically describes surfaces that might look like spheres, doughnuts – or something projected at a Pink Floyd laser light show.
Why? He seeks to “increase the understanding of mathematics, because a fertile mathematical community can ultimately increase our understanding of the universe.” In fact, his research is most closely aligned with developing the mathematical foundations of string theory, which is all about how we view the universe.
To do this work, Cavalieri, an associate professor of mathematics, applies Hurwitz theory, which uniquely combines algebra, geometry, topology, and analysis to better understand complex surfaces. Indeed, he wrote the book on it: a college textbook called Riemann Surfaces and Algebraic Curves: A First Course in Hurwitz Theory, published in 2016 by Cambridge University Press. The book includes 100 exercises to motivate the undergraduate reader, which we think is the bookseller’s way of saying this theory is not for the faint of calculator.
Thus, we turn to Cavalieri’s recreational pastime as a conceptual aid. When he’s not studying Hurwitz theory, teaching Introduction to Algebraic Geometry, and coordinating Calculus III, Cavalieri practices capoeira, the Brazilian martial art that combines poses, ducks, feints, and flips into a (theoretically) killer dance. Speaking of lasers (back in the first sentence), the acrobatic bad guy in the heist flick Ocean’s 12 used capoeira to get through a field of security lasers.
Our own theory proposes that if capoeira is like a performance of algebraic geometry, then Cavalieri puts in motion the shapes his math describes. Test it and get back to us.