Prior to UMD, he was a research director at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris.
From the time the École Polytechnique in France named his Ph.D. dissertation the best in the year 2000, University of Maryland Mathematics Professor Bassam Fayad built a reputation as a world expert in the theory of dynamical systems.
Fayad has traveled across continents to collaborate on research with colleagues in Brazil, Italy, Sweden, China and the U.S. In 2018, he was invited to lecture at the International Congress of Mathematics in Rio de Janeiro. Until recently, he was a research director at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris.
Now, he has taken another prestigious position here at UMD. Fayad has been named the Michael and Eugenia Brin Endowed Chair in Mathematics. Established in 2015, the Brin Chair is “chosen strictly on the basis of demonstrated exceptional mathematical ability, achievement, potential, and leadership in mathematical research and education, in a vital field at the heart of mathematics.”
Known for his work in Hamiltonian dynamics, Kolmogorov-Arnold-Moser (KAM) theory, Liouville phenomenon and homogeneous dynamics, Fayad sees great potential in holding the Brin Chair.
“In terms of possibilities to engage in far-reaching activities, Maryland is on a very remarkable upward slope,” he said.
He’s especially excited about funding that will be available through the recently established Brin Mathematics Research Center.
“In dynamical systems, one of the strongest groups in the world is concentrated here at Maryland,” Fayad said. “We can host workshops. We can invite specialists in all areas of dynamics from around the world to give lectures or crash courses. We can invite colleagues and collaborators as well as their students. If you add our colleagues from Penn State and the University of Chicago and Northwestern and New York, we can function as a hub, because all these places are quite near and people interact a lot.”
It was the late Penn State mathematician Anatole Katok—who Michael Brin also studied under—who drew Fayad to his first experience in the U.S. After serving on Fayad’s Ph.D. jury, Katok extended an offer to Fayad for a one-year post-doc at Penn State. Following the post-doc, Fayad returned to Paris, where he lived since he was a teenager—moving there from Lebanon with his elder brother to prepare for the entrance exam for École Polytechnique.
“This happened in the summer of a very hard last year of war in Lebanon,” Fayad said. “My father calculated that schools would not open, and he was right. Two days before classes were supposed to open, my brother’s school in France agreed to enroll me. I was in crisis and started crying for a whole week. I was young and not prepared and not convinced. The plan was that I would become an architect in Lebanon like my father. The story ended up with both of us at Polytechnique.”
Mathematics was also an unplanned path for Fayad.
“I said I will do Polytechnique, and then I will do architecture,” he said. “And then I will go back to Lebanon. But math was also fun and that’s what I ended up doing.”
Fayad’s research today ranges from abstract ergodic theory to topics intimately connected to real-world mathematical physics, such as Hamiltonian dynamics and their applications to the N-body problem.
“The research field of dynamical systems has this advantage of being very close to physics,” Fayad said. “Part of our job, for example, is to look at the planetary system and study all the possibilities. Will this system behave in a tame way with all planets gravitating on ellipses around the sun, while their satellites do the same around them? Under which conditions will it behave in a completely different manner and maybe in a chaotic way? For example, can a planet escape? Can we lose the moon?”
When Fayad received the offer to join UMD, the pandemic had just started.
“Businesses were shutting down everywhere and the world seemed to be collapsing,” he said. “And on my side, it was all working well. I was signing a contract for a new life. However, the pandemic did delay everything by a couple of years.”
Fayad finally arrived on campus at the beginning of 2022. He’ll continue to travel to France to work with some of his Ph.D. students there, while he works on attracting students to his research group at Maryland.
“The department is also very active in the process of hiring high-quality professors in all disciplines in mathematics. And we have a lot of projects,” he added. “You feel good to embrace this new adventure, where you know that people are putting in hope and energy and means to do things for our field that I think will make a difference.”
Written by Ellen Ternes