Published: April 28, 2022 By

Distinguished Professor Mark Ablowitz, known for prolific contributions to applied mathematics, teaching and mentorship, has been named the 2022 recipient of the Hazel Barnes Prize—the most distinguished award a faculty member can receive from CU Boulder.

Since 1992, the Hazel Barnes Prize has been awarded each year to a CU Boulder faculty member who exemplifies the enriching relationship between teaching and research, and whose work has had a significant impact on students, faculty, colleagues and the university.

Noted in nomination materials for his far-reaching contributions at CU Boulder, Ablowitz is a distinguished professor of applied mathematics and established the Applied Mathematics department, “a world-renowned research powerhouse.” 

In his internationally known research, Ablowitz is recognized as revolutionizing the mathematical understanding of nonlinear waves, such as water waves.

A Physics Today feature prompted international media attention on understanding the power of tsunami waves. Also, Ablowitz’s expertise has been highlighted in news articles about the improbability of predicting the winning basketball teams in the NCAA tournament each year. 

He has more than 250 refereed journal publications, including a citation classic (a highly cited publication), according to Ablowitz. In addition to three research monographs, he has written two textbooks, which are both teaching materials and references in their respective fields. 

Ablowitz is credited with an interdisciplinary milestone—setting the foundation of applied mathematics curricula on campus, including leading the development of a four-semester calculus/differential equations sequence for engineering majors. 

He also established the concept of affiliated faculty appointments, recognizing that applied mathematics is relevant to multiple fields represented on campus. In recent semesters, Ablowitz created new strategies in upper-division and graduate curricula by structuring hybrid in-person and cutting-edge technology-based teaching. 

“Through remarkable research and innovative scholarship, our faculty members make waves across the CU Boulder community and beyond,” said CU Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano. “Mark Ablowitz took that charge literally, dedicating his career to the study of nonlinear waves and making a worldwide impact through his research, teaching and leadership. He is a tremendous asset to his profession and to CU Boulder, and this recognition is well-deserved.”

The colleagues who nominated Ablowitz described the extraordinary impact he’s had on generations of students, graduating 19 doctoral students and supervising 27 postdoctoral fellows. For a mathematician, “this is an impressively large number of students and fellows,” the committee said. 

Ablowitz’s students have gone on to pursue successful careers at top-level institutions, including CU Boulder, at national laboratories and in industry. 

In notable moments during his 33-year career at CU Boulder, Ablowitz was named a distinguished professor by the Board of Regents in 2020. He was selected to give the 101st Distinguished Research Lecture in 2009. In 2006, Ablowitz was recognized as a professor of distinction by the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as a Marinus Smith Award winner—a student-driven recognition. 

A highly competitive National Science Foundation grant, known as the Vertical Integration of Research and Education, or VIGRE, went to a group organized by Ablowitz in 1998 with a $2.3 million award. 

Ablowitz has been both a Sloan Foundation Fellow and a Guggenheim Fellow and he was an in-residence scholar at Princeton University during those fellowship years. He has also been the Rothschild Fellow at the Newton Institute at Cambridge University.

Ablowitz’s research has been continuously funded by both the National Science Foundation and the Office of Air Force research for more than four decades, he said. 

He holds honorary Doctor of Science degrees from two international universities and was awarded the Kruskal Prize by the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics. 

Ablowitz earned a doctoral degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1971 and a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Rochester in 1967. Prior to being recruited to CU Boulder in 1989, Ablowitz rose through the ranks of assistant, associate and full professor, served as chair and subsequently dean of science at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York.

The Hazel Barnes Prize, which will be presented at the commencement ceremony on May 5, includes a $20,000 cash award and an engraved university medal.

The prize was established in honor of renowned philosophy Professor Emerita Hazel Barnes, who taught at CU Boulder from 1943 to 1986 and who passed away in 2008.