M3 Math Majors Matter ----------------------------------

SPOTLIGHT ON ...

           Oscar Vega




Oscar Vega (the one on the right) is a postdoc in geometry.
Where were you born?
Chile, the western "down under."
Where did you get your undergraduate degree?
Universidad de Chile.
Did you start college majoring in mathematics? If not, what was your major?
I started college majoring in Math, but that was after being rejected at the conservatorium.
What courses or areas of study gave you trouble while you were an undergraduate?
All the physics, in particular the Labs, I failed that class.
What math class was the most challenging for you?
Differential Geometry.
When did you realize that math was of interest to you?
I guess my friends and classmates in our equivalent to Junior High realize that before I did. They use to follow me for tutoring!
How did you know which area of mathematics to pursue?
I took a class called Projective Planes when I was a senior; we read Hughes and Piper. It was love at first sight. I knew I liked Algebra and Geometry...
What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment as an undergraduate?
Besides graduating?
What would you have done differently as an undergraduate?
I guess I would have worked more on some subjects (differential geometry, for example) and had more fun with Math. I used to think math was my job and it wasn't that fun. It was always interesting, but I didn't enjoy it was much as I do now.
What was your most embarassing moment as an undergrad?
Besides failing a Physics lab class?
What advice would you give to undergraduate math majors?
Have fun, as much as you can (with Math and without). If Math will be part of your life, you better get along with it.
Are you the first PhD in your family?
Yes.
Where did you complete your PhD studies?
The University of Iowa
Describe your area of research.
I work on translation planes. These planes are generalizations of the standard "blackboard plane" that do not work as well as our standard Euclidian world. Most of the times I work on finite planes, which means that there are only finitely many points in the plane. This and the lack of a non-trivial way to define a distance make this world fascinating ... can we even think about circles without a distance? If a line is the curve joining two points that has the shortest length, then how do you generalize that in a world without distance?
Why did you decide to join the faculty at UCDHSC?
Because they offered me a job :-) Seriously, because it is not common to see so many people working on finite geometries at a high level, all in the same department. I think this was the best opportunity I could have wished. Hopefully, the department wanted me as well.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about mathematicians?
That they are absent minded and forget things. Also, that they are absent minded and forget things.
How can an undergraduate get involved with the math department?
I guess that talking to people about math and asking questions is the obvious way to go. However, if you are shy like me, I think that by attending seminars, just by sitting there and seeing how everything develops, could help you to create a certain confidence that will eventually lead you to talk about math ... which is the whole idea!
Where is your favorite place you have ever traveled?
Visiting my family in Chile is my favorite trip, my favorite place. Besides that, I liked Chiloe, an island in the south of my country; nice people, relaxing, great place to trek (I didn't have much money so I HAD to walk a lot).
What CD is in your car right now?
CD player is broken :-( This morning I was listening to "Fear of Music" by Talking Heads.
What is your favorite movie?
"Underground" by Emir Kusturica.
What is the best concert you have ever been to?
I guess I should say The Cure, because after years of being a fan I finally could see them live. But as a show, I guess that Spiritualized and Mogwai were much more impressive.
What would you be doing if you weren't a math faculty member?
Musician, DJ, frustrated soccer player, photographer.
What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?
Music related stuff, whatever.
What is your favorite sport?
Soccer.
What is your favorite food?
Indian food; I prepare pretty good curries. I also like Thai and pretty much anything spicy. No meat, please.
What was your worst injury and how did it happen?
Herniated disc in my lower back produced by excessive basketball playing on hard surfaces. My denial says that my weight didn't have anything to do about it.
If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
Nice question. I would love to have lunch with so many people, but it would be embarassing me to try to talk to such important minds... in math: Galois, Coxeter, Poincare, etc. In letters: Wilde, Camus, Sartre, Suskind, etc. In "For Fun": El Diego (Maradona), Robert Smith, Charlie Mingus, Serge Gainsbourg, Tom Waits, etc.
Even though you have only been in Colorado a short time, what do you hope to do in the state in the upcoming months?
Besides doing research, teaching and hosting my own radio show? I don't think I will have time for much.
Outside of the university setting, what is the biggest difference between Denver and your previous residence?
Iowa City is a very small community, very quiet. etc (where you can hear the corn grow). Denver is bigger, much more cosmopolitan. I can't say much more, I haven't been enough time here.
Tell us something about yourself that would surprise everyone.
I have realized that people consider it surprising that I am a radio DJ. Strange but true.


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