Thom makes most of his return to campus

Some students can't wait to get out into the workforce and apply the knowledge they've accrued while earning their university degree. Mark Thom (BASc '06), on the other hand, had a taste of the working world and couldn't wait to start learning again.

Armed with a computer science degree, Thom was quick to apply his knowledge in the private sector, but soon discovered the work he was doing was simply unfulfilling.

"Even while I was finishing off my degree, I really started to enjoy problem solving a lot more than the concrete aspects of developing software," Thom says. "After graduating and working for a year in software development, I decided I didn't like it so much and came back to do a degree in math."

If there were any doubts as to whether he made the right move, they were quickly dispelled when Thom applied for, and won, the prestigious CMS-NSERC Math in Moscow Scholarship. The scholarship allows him to spend the fall semester in Moscow, Russia to study advanced courses in mathematics as well as a Russian language course. With only three such scholarships awarded each year to an undergraduate student in a Canadian university, it's obvious Thom is one of the country's elite mathematicians.

The Lethbridge native and Winston Churchill High School graduate revels in the challenge of solving some of math's great mysteries. He's spent the summer working with Dr. Nathan Ng in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science as they research analytic number theory.

"It's essentially using the methods of calculus to answer questions about the integers," Thom says. "A lot of the questions we have concerning the integers have been around for several hundred years and we still have not really come close to answering them. It's a very challenging and interesting field."

The work he's been able to do with Ng has prepared him well for the rigors of his semester in Moscow; an experience he expects will be very demanding.

"The people who have recently come to the department are more or less in my field, and have built up a very strong number theory group in the province," Thom says. "They've been offering courses that hadn't really been offered previously, and developing a curriculum to areas that weren't covered unless you were involved in an independent study with a professor."

Thom is the second U of L student to win the Math in Moscow scholarship after Kyle Hambrook captured the award last year. He sees the opportunity as another step toward his ultimate goal, working in academia.

"This will be a really good opportunity to establish contacts in research," Thom says. "These are people who are interested in the same sorts of work, and the same sorts of problems and who I may potentially want to work with in the future."