media release

Gold vindicates late-blooming math whiz

June 14, 2011

Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.3210;

Karel Casteels
Photo on Flickr

For mathematics PhD student Karel Casteels, receiving the Governor General’s Gold Medal for scholastic excellence while at Simon Fraser University is especially sweet.
After all, it wasn’t too long ago that the Mississauga, Ontario native’s high school guidance counselor tried to talk him out of taking the three math courses he’d signed up for in Grade 12.
“He didn’t think I could pull it off,” given that Casteels’ apparently sudden interest in the subject came so late in his high-school career, he says. But the counselor hadn’t calculated on the young math whiz’s innate talent with numbers.
Casteels went on to earn his PhD in the very subject he was urged to steer clear of. And he maintained a cumulative grade point average of 4.28 out of a possible 4.33 while doing it.
On top of that, during his dissertation on the “combinatorial structure of the prime spectrum of quantum matrices” Casteels solved quantum algebra problems that had been baffling other mathematicians for years.
Described by his professors as “a highly original thinker,” Casteels has also been published four times and presented at seven national and international conferences.
His latest achievement: bagging a post-doctoral position as the Ky Fan Visiting Scholar at the University of California at Santa Barbara, a few hours north of Los Angeles, where he rubs elbows with other math whizzes – including his two supervisors, who are known worldwide for their work in the field of quantum groups.

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