Visualizing Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering
  • Home
  • Posters
  • Materials for Study
  • Biographies
  • Cool Links
  • The Design Team

  • Kate Adebola Okikiolu

    Professor of Mathematics at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Okikiolu studies elliptical determinants to geometry, which entails investigating the properties of different dimensions in space. Specifically, Okikiolu has been studying a number known as the "spectral determinant" of a drum, which results when you multiply all of the resonant frequencies of the drum together. While the spectral determinant for two-dimensional drums is well-understood, many uncertainties surrounding mathematical three-dimensional spaces still exist. Okikiolu explains: "The sound of a drum changes as its shape changes. In fact, listening to the drum very carefully tells me how to change its shape to make it sound like a round drum and when it sounds like a round drum, it is indeed round! But what will happen if the drum skin is three-dimensional? Or four?" Okikiolu and her collaborator, Victor Guillemin, are hoping that their research may eventually be applied to problems in quantum physics, which also involve resonant frequencies.

    Okikiolu comes from a mathematical family: her father is a mathematician and inventor and her mother is a high school mathematics teacher. They met when her father left Nigeria to study mathematics at the same college in England where her mother was studying physics. Okikiolu carried on the family tradition, earning her B.A. in Mathematics from Newnham College in England--the only all-women's college remaining at Cambridge University--before coming to the United States in 1987 to study for her doctorate at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). There, she worked with two mentors, Sun-Yung (Alice) Chang and John Garnett, and was able to solve a problem concerning asymptotics of determinants of Toeplitz operators on the sphere and a conjecture of Peter Jones, characterizing subsets of rectifiable curves in Euclidean n-space. After graduating in 1991, Kate went to Princeton University where she was an Instructor and an Assistant Professor, then spent one year at the Institute of Advanced Study. She obtained her resident U.S. visa just in time to apply for a National Science Foundation (NSF) post-doc, which she currently holds at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She makes frequent trips between MIT and UCSD, where both she and her partner hold positions.