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News & Stories: 2009-10

Faculty profile: Michael Bolt
September 25, 2009

For Professor Michael Bolt, there was no such thing as a summer break in 2009.

Bolt, a professor for the mathematics and statistics department at Calvin College, had four students working with him this past summer. Two of the students worked on generating images of the Riemann Map, and the other two worked on characterizing transformations of the plane which preserve hyperbolas.

All summer long

"To have four students doing research in the summer with one faculty member is pretty amazing,” said Professor Michael Stob, the chairman of the mathematics and statistics department. “It means that he is full-time during the summer.”

"The first problem was more computational … The second was much more drawing on different aspects of algebra and geometry to solve this particular problem,” Bolt described the research. “That is something I like about math: you always look for a good problem, a good challenge. And a good problem usually draws on lots of different areas of mathematics …

"I just found that really enjoyable,” he added.

Bolt’s love of a good problem manifested itself at a young age. He recalls that his “15 minutes of fame” occurred in elementary school when his father helped him learn how to solve the then-new Rubik’s Cube.

Cube prodigy

"The older kids in grade school would come to me to get their Rubik’s Cube solved,” said Bolt. As Bolt grew up and moved into junior high, another subject caught his mind’s fancy: mathematics.

"I had an excellent teacher during junior high, Connie DeLange. Mrs. DeLange was a wonderful teacher who had a love for mathematics that she generously shared with her students,” said Bolt. “I think anyone who is in mathematics can always point to a particular teacher who was most influential, and I would say it was her.”

Although Bolt’s father was a Calvin psychology professor, and two of his siblings have grown up to become psychology professors, he was never specifically drawn to that field. “I have always enjoyed mathematics, and I’ve always stuck with what I have enjoyed the most,” he said.

Bolt earned his bachelor’s in mathematics from Calvin College in 1994 and headed off to the University for Chicago as a graduate student right away. However, he was in for a shock upon arriving in Chicago.

"The math was very, very hard,” said Bolt with a laugh. “Math was always hard; but it was very, very hard.” Asked if the math was still fun at that point Bolt says, with a smile: “I didn’t have much time to ponder that.”

Teacher and researcher

Bolt came back to Calvin as a full-time professor in 2004, and according to Stob, the institution is lucky to have him back: “He is a first -rate researcher, but he has been able to involve students in that research too, and that is a good thing,” said Stob. “He is a great teacher and a great researcher. What more could you want?”

Stob added that Bolt’s research has generated plenty of outside interest, and he is a very sought-after speaker. Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, Bolt has continued to research on the subject of his PhD: several complex variables.

"I have two on-going projects with David Barrett, my mentor at U of M. One of them concerns Möbius geometry,” said Bolt. “Recently I've also begun to do some expository writing.” With Dan Isaksen, a grad school friend, Bolt produced a paper called: ‘Dogs don’t need calculus,’ which is slated to be published in January.

When Bolt is not working on math, he enjoys running, bicycling, and kayaking. He is an elder at his church, Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, and serves as clerk of council. He also tutors children who need help in math on a part-time basis.

"He teaches everywhere from first-year students all the way up through math majors, so he has a good sense of where his audience is,” said Stob. “He is very meticulously prepared for teaching … He has the perfect example for each concept.”

~by Matt Decker, communications and marketing

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Michael Bolt

mathematics and statistics

BS in mathematics and minor in physics, Calvin College, 1994; PhD, mathematics, University of Chicago, 2001  

Research interests

Several complex variables

Selected Publications

"The Möbius geometry of hypersurfaces," Michigan Mathematical Journal, 56, 603-622 (2008).

"Dogs don’t need calculus." College Mathematics Journal, (to appear).

Little-known fact

While living in Chicago, Bolt was almost run over by Dennis Rodman, who was riding his motorcycle on the sidewalk.