Boris Alexeev: Solving Graph Theory Problems by Melis A. '08
Boris Alexeev spent five months working on a math UROP with Prof. Daniel Kleitman.
I met sophomores Boris Alexeev and Shaye Storm three years ago at a week-long program for Intel Science Talent Search finalists. As part of the program, we spent two days presenting our research to a panel of judges and the general public, and I had the privilege of being assigned to a booth right next to Boris’. Despite spending more than fourteen hours hearing him explain his project to everyone from mathematicians to ten-year olds (and even staring at the pretty graphs on his poster), I still don’t really have the slightest clue as to what he actually did. I try to justify my ignorance by saying that I’m not really that dumb, he’s just that smart.
When I sat down with Boris a few weeks ago to hear about his UROP, everything was going great as I asked the standard questions about what major he is (Mathematics (Course 18) and Linguistics (Course 24)), how long he has had this UROP (about five months), which professor he worked with (Daniel Kleitman, a professor in the Math Department.) Next, I naturally asked him to give a brief, layman’s description of his project goal and methods. He squirmed and hesitated a bit, but was pretty adamant about not trying to explain his exact project. Boris did, however, explain that he worked on a graph theory problem about the coloring of graphs. (At this point he broke it down into pieces that even I could understand!) A graph is just a set of vertices connected by edges. You can assign a color to each edge and then consider when the colorings have rainbow cycles, where a rainbow cycle is a set of edges that form a cycle or loop where every edge is colored differently. Want to know more? Read his paper at http://arxiv.org/abs/math.CO/0507456, he is in the process of trying to get it published.
Before speaking with Boris, I had never understood where the research topics for math UROPs came from and how these talented undergraduates went about solving these complicated problems. Boris approached Prof. Kleitman, who presented him with a bunch of open problems that he had heard about at a conference. After picking the one that interested him the most (and seemed possible to solve), he took it back to his room and thought about it a lot. He found the process to be very relaxing and considered himself lucky to be paid to “sit around and think.” To take a break from math, he enjoys rock climbing, road biking, and guest starring on Shaye’s radio show.
Aspiring mathematicians are in luck, as MIT will happily pay you to do research! Many math students choose to do their research through the SPUR program. You can find out more about the program at http://math.mit.edu/department/album/spur05/
Oh, and here are some pictures of Boris and Shaye from the radio show: