Undergraduate honored by Association for Women in Mathematics

Naomi Sweeting, a fourth-year in the College, has been awarded the Alice T. Schafer Mathematics Prize, given annually by the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) to an undergraduate woman for excellence in mathematics. 

“It is rare, even for very strong students, that this early in their career, they are destined to be mathematical stars,” said Robert Fefferman, the Mason Distinguished Service Professor of Mathematics, who nominated Sweeting for the prize. “Naomi showed such talent and persistence in all her classes and special programs, proving that she definitely is such a student.”

Sweeting, a Barry Goldwater Scholarship recipient, is majoring in mathematics and history. Next year, she plans to attend graduate school for mathematics. 

Sweeting has been interested in the field since she competed in math contests as a middle and high school student. She has only grown more curious over the years and is now focusing on number theory— the study of integers, especially prime numbers.

“Number theory is exciting because there are a lot of big open questions—often very simple, concrete questions, such as ‘Can any even number be written as the sum of two primes?’ that require very abstract, complicated machinery to try to answer,” said Sweeting.

This past summer, Sweeting attended a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Emory University. She walked away from the program with two accepted publications and a third in the revision stage. 

“It was my first research experience,” Sweeting said. “It was so invigorating to get up in the morning and work on something I was curious about.”

The Alice T. Schafer Prize is named for Alice T. Schafer, a UChicago alumna (PhD ‘42) and one of the founders of the AWM, which aims to address the “leaking career pipeline in mathematics.”

“If you study math, you’ll immediately notice that there aren’t as many women professors or students. There’s underrepresentation at every level,” Sweeting said. “The AWM is trying to change that.”