In Focus: Ben Ford

Professor of Mathematics and Chair Faculty Senate

The library's electronic journal subscriptions are top-notch and are the most important holdings for me to have access to in research.

What is your research focus?

Most of my publications have been in an area called representation theory, which is a piece of Group Theory - which in turn is sometimes described as the study of symmetry. After working with them for a while, the abstract mathematical objects called groups become quite concrete to me, and I enjoy discovering patterns and proving that they always hold.

I also have lots of other interests, among them trying to understand mathematics teaching and learning, and mathematical applications in biology and in human systems. I love students' "aha" moments, and work a lot with teachers to try to figure out how to elicit more such moments.

How has the library helped you achieve your goals in this area?

The library's electronic journal subscriptions are top-notch and are the most important holdings for me to have access to in research. I've been able to quickly retrieve every article I've needed for the past several years. The Mathematical Reviews database, MathSciNet, is crucial for finding the right sources.

We also have a surprisingly good collection of mathematics books, which means I can almost always find a few books to catch me up when I come across topics in papers that I don't understand (which happens all the time!). When teaching an upper-division class, I'll often come peruse the collection of books on the topic, to remind me of the different approaches to the subject that are out there. The ability to physically flip through the books is important for this task - I often notice a book near the one I came for, and that unexpected book turns out to have something really useful in it.

What is your favorite library memory?

The mandala sand painting in the gallery in Spring 2011 was great. But my favorite is probably the 2 years that we Science and Technology faculty spent in cubicles in the library while Darwin was being remodeled (2004-06). Don't get me wrong - I don't want to go back to that, but we did interact more with faculty from other disciplines because we were all crammed into the same space, and we got to know the library faculty and staff better!