Learning how things work intrigues math student

Nathan McNew isn’t interested in the practical applications of what he studies. What draws him in is “being able to understand the underlying theory.”

Although McNew won a half-tuition scholarship to DU as a seventh grader at the state geography bee, he came to DU primarily to study mathematics. The main selling point, says the Arvada, Colo., native, was that DU’s math department was “more theoretical than others.”

Once McNew settled in on campus, he added another theoretical major to his plate: physics.

“It’s another science about how things work,” he says.

When McNew isn’t working on mathematical theories (he’s partial to Aliquot Sequences), he’s probably in the physics lab, determining how heat flows though certain types of materials. And just like with his math research, McNew has no interest in applying what he finds — that’s for the engineers to figure out.

Leaving some things to the engineers isn’t a bad idea. It gives the junior time to squeeze in extracurricular activities, including the Honors Program, the Voltaire Society, the Lamont choir, working as a technology assistant in a campus computer lab, playing on a broomball team and participating in the Society of Physics Students.

And he’s still adding to his resume. In spring 2009 he plans to study abroad in Germany, where he will hone his German language skills.

When pressured to choose between all of his academic interests, he answers: “I still lean toward math.”

“Nathan always took the extra effort to learn more about [math] from outside sources. … Mathematical questions posed by people at his age are seldom meaningful, but his demonstrate the maturity of someone much further along,” says McNew’s adviser, mathematics Professor Nic Ormes.

“I expect that in a few years Nathan will be a professor of mathematics. I foresee him doing original research and proving new results.”

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