Fresh Faculty of the Week
Issue   |   Wed, 11/09/2011 - 03:04
Amherst College
Professor Michael Ching

Professor Michael Ching hails from Cambridge, England. He completed his undergradurate degree at Cambridge University, and his Ph.D. in Mathematics at MIT. For the last few years, Ching has worked as an assistant professor at the Univeristy of Georgia.

How did begin studying math and what made you decide to pursue it?
I think I began when I was very little. I remember my dad giving me math problems to do, just basic things to think about when I was really little, so I guess he got me interested in it. I really just enjoyed it in school, so I decided I would study it in college, and I enjoyed in college so I decided I would keep going. Really, I never kind of planned to do this as a career, but I just kept on enjoying math, so decided to stay with it. It turned out well and I enjoy it a lot.

Why did you decide to teach at Amherst?
Well, it’s a great place to teach. I guess I really like having office hours and having students come to office hours. And that is one of the main sort of attractions here is that there are students who like coming to office hours, you don’t have to force them to. They like learning, and I just like having students in here, you know, working on problems and asking me questions. I imagine that is similar to why most people like teaching here.

What classes are you teaching this and next semester?
This semester I am teaching two calculus classes. One is just an Intro to Calculus, which is just the very first semester of calculus. The other is Multivariable. So both of those are about introducing notions of change and how that is dealt with in mathematics in a very precise way. Next semester I am teaching another calculus class and then Introduction to Analysis. Mathematical analysis is really the study of the basic, the real numbers, so just ordinary numbers, but in a lot of detail. So, really understanding how numbers work and some of their properties and sequences. And it’s also studying how to talk really precisely about numbers and some of their properties.

Which aspects of Amherst do you like so far?
It is a really beautiful campus. I really like being out here, in the countryside and also having a town and things like that. Also, like I said before, I like the students. I like how they come to office hours and seem very willing to learn and willing to work at it.

What do you hope to contribute to Amherst during your time here?
Mainly I hope to teach well, and I hope that the students that I teach manage to learn math and enjoy it and appreciate some of the beauty of mathematics that I enjoy as I’ve been doing it.

What is you research on and how did you come to be involved in it?
My research is in topology. So, topology is the study of shapes and spaces, possibly in many high dimensions, possibly in infinitely many dimensions. So topology in general is trying to understand all possible shapes and the relationships between them. It begins by looking at ordinary shapes that we are familiar with, like circles, and surfaces and stuff like that, but then with the ideas you have there you can also think of higher dimensions. And that becomes important and has applications to things like facial recognition and things like that because you can represent a face as like a point in a higher dimensional space. So understanding higher dimensional spaces allows you to think about how different faces are related to one another.
It was on of the topics I enjoyed when I was in college and I kept going with it. I guess when I was doing my PhD. the place I was at had people who were particularly interested in that and so I ended up working with them.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like hiking. So I have been up a couple of trails, up the hills there. So far I have only done a couple of hikes from the Notch Visitor Center up to Mt. Norwottuck so that was nice. I haven’t had much time so far since I have only been here a couple of weeks.