James Sethian '76 (Adalien Hulmer/Wikipedia)

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James Sethian ’76 has tackled a broad range of problems through applied mathematics. His work has helped to sharpen medical images, improve semiconductor manufacturing, model combustion processes, and reconstruct geological structures from reflected waves. This week, the International Council for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM) rewarded Sethian for his remarkable contributions, announcing him as the next recipient of the group’s quadrennial Pioneer Prize.
Sethian teaches mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, and heads the mathematics group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. In the Pioneer Prize citation, ICIAM said that Sethian’s successes have been made possible by his “unparalleled eagerness to learn thoroughly the engineering aspects of problems he works on, the accuracy and depth of his feelings for mathematical structure, and his broad mathematical knowledge.”
Sethian is the sixth mathematician to receive the Pioneer Prize. Past recipients include Stanley Osher, who collaborated with Sethian to develop the “level set method” for tracking interfaces and shapes; and Princeton mathematics professor Ingrid Daubechies, an expert in the mathematics of wavelets.
For Sethian, the Pioneer Prize is the latest in a string of honors. In 2004, he received the Norbert Wiener Prize in Applied Mathematics. In 2008, he was inducted as a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and in 2009, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics selected Sethian as one of its inaugural fellows.