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18-year-old Union senior’s research published by Harvard

Senior Matthew Dawson presents his research project during the Scholarship Symposium May 9. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)
Senior Matthew Dawson presents his research project during the Scholarship Symposium May 9. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)

JACKSON, Tenn.May 13, 2008 – Matthew Dawson is not your typical college senior.

He’ll graduate on Saturday at age 18 – the youngest Union University graduate in recent history -- and head to Louisiana State University, where he has secured a fellowship that will pay for the next three and a half years of his education – with no teaching duties.

He’s also one of the youngest students to have a paper published by The Harvard College Mathematics Review. Dawson presented his paper, “Bridging the Group Definition Gap,” during Union’s Scholarship Symposium May 9.

Dawson joined about 75 other Union students who presented their research findings during the annual event. Sponsored by the university’s Undergraduate Research Program, the symposium is open to undergraduate and graduate students who have completed a collaborative, innovative scholarly project during the current academic year.

The program’s goal is to provide students with the opportunity to work with a faculty mentor on a research project. About 25 faculty members participated with students in this year’s symposium.

“It’s an expository type of paper,” Dawson said about his project. “It’s about the history of mathematics.”

Dawson’s paper focuses on the work of Evariste Galois, an early 19th century French mathematician. Galois laid the foundations of “group theory” in mathematics, although he never precisely defined “groups.”

In his paper, Dawson examined Galois’ thinking and compared it to the modern way of thinking about Galois’ concepts.

Dawson is the first Union student to have a paper published by Harvard.

“I was really excited,” he said. “I was looking for a place that would accept papers from undergraduates, and my adviser for the project and my dad suggested that I try to submit it there. I really didn’t think I had a chance of getting it published there, but it seemed to fit the type of article that I had written.”

Math professor Matt Lunsford was Dawson’s adviser for his research project.

“In his paper, Matthew develops new mathematical definitions, theorems and proofs to demonstrate the relationships that exist between the concepts formulated by Galois in 1830 and the expression of those same concepts today,” Lunsford said. “His achievement, in my opinion, is at the level of a master’s degree thesis and is clearly beyond what I envisioned possible for an undergraduate student in mathematics.”

In addition to his excitement about his paper being published by Harvard, Dawson was especially pleased with the way the paper was edited.

“I was really surprised that they let me keep the word ‘groovy’ in the paper,” he said.

At LSU, Dawson will pursue a Doctor of Philosophy degree in mathematics. He’s tentatively planning to pursue a career as a college math professor.

Dawson is the son of Bryan and Martha Dawson. Bryan is a math professor at Union.

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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