Alina Marian, a new asso­ciate pro­fessor of math­e­matics in North­eastern University’s Col­lege of Sci­ence, thinks of geom­etry as not just the study of shapes but a look into heart of the uni­verse and its origins.

It’s the most abstract end of science—it’s math­e­matics at its core,” said Marian of her research, which is tied to the emerging study of string theory. “It’s about trying to make sense of the physics of the first frac­tion of time in the life of the uni­verse, which is of course inter­esting and complicated.”

Marian received her Ph.D. from Har­vard and comes to North­eastern from the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago, where she was a tenured asso­ciate pro­fessor. She has been a Gibbs Assis­tant Pro­fessor at Yale Uni­ver­sity, a post­doc­toral fellow at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity and a member of the Insti­tute of Advanced Study at Princeton.

Her research spans sev­eral areas of math­e­matics including moduli theory in alge­braic geom­etry, rep­re­sen­ta­tion theory, com­plex geom­etry and string theory—all fields that overlap with the study of physics.

At first, I was inter­ested in physics and philosophy—like everyone, you want to better under­stand the world,” Marian said. “Then I was drawn into math­e­matics, which allows you to explore and under­stand topics con­cep­tu­ally. Math­e­matics allows you to under­stand our inter­esting world in a way you can’t do in any other field.”

Marian said her research into string theory—a field only a few decades old—is exciting because she can play an impor­tant role in exploring the ori­gins of new ideas.

If you look at the his­tory of math­e­matics, ideas have a long range,” Marian said. “And these ideas can impact a lot of math not just years down the road, but decades and cen­turies into the future.”

This fall, Marian is teaching a math course for engi­neers on cal­culus and dif­fer­en­tial equa­tions. After this semester, her courses will run the gamut, teaching a freshmen intro­duc­tion to high-​​level math­e­matics to courses designed for advanced grad­uate students.

She said she hopes stu­dents of math and physics are drawn into this new field of research because it is still so untapped.

There are plenty of prob­lems and plenty of open­ings,” Marian said. “When you’re a grad­uate stu­dent, you want to work in a field that’s not at its end. Math is cer­tainly an old sub­ject, but it’s been reju­ve­nated over the last two decades. It’s cer­tainly not a field that’s on its deathbed.”