For Noah Golowich, mathematics is much more than the sum of its parts.

Golowich, A.B. ’19, won’t earn his undergraduate degree until next spring, but his work has already resulted in four publications in peer-reviewed journals.

The math and computer science concentrator at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering (SEAS) was honored for his accomplishments by being named a runner up for the 2018 Computing Research Association Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award.

“I am very thankful for the award,” he said. “I didn’t expect it all, but I am really excited and humbled to receive it.”

An elementary school math club piqued Golowich’s interest in the field. From there, he began entering (and winning) local math competitions, and as a high schooler took higher-level math classes through the Harvard Extension School.

Golowich worked on his first mathematics research project during high school. He proved an open conjecture in Ramsey Theory by showing that patterns exist in large and complex combinatorial objects for a much broader category of equations. The conjecture had been open for some time, but Golowich said looking at it from a different angle was ultimately what helped him complete the proof.

“I like the fact that math does require quite a bit of creativity,” he said. “You might come up with a math problem and have no idea how to solve it, but it turns out there is some really beautiful way to skid around some obstacle you might see. I really enjoy seeing how things fit together.”

Golowich is currently working on a project at the intersection of economics and computer science with David Parkes, George F. Colony Professor of Computer Science

They are studying automated mechanism design in auctions where no money is involved. For example, suppose a number of different agents are working together to place a public facility, like a library, at the optimal location in a town. Each agent could misreport the optimal location in an effort to locate the library closer to where it would benefit them personally (perhaps in their neighborhood or near their child’s school).

Golowich’s work seeks to develop a mathematical mechanism, using neural networks, that can aggregate all the agents’ reports into an optimal location that is non-manipulable. Ultimately, the goal is to use principles from computer science and economics to incent agents to report truthfully, Golowich said.

“This research is really exciting because there is a lot of interesting theory that lies behind this. We have an opportunity to use techniques from an area of computer science that has not been applied very much in the field of economics,” he said. “In the future, we could even discover new types of characterization results with these machine learning techniques.”

Their research has applications in the types of auctions frequently used in online commerce, and also in areas like product development (identifying an optimal product feature) or scheduling (finding the ideal time to meet.)

In addition to this project, Golowich is also engaged in computer science research projects at Harvard and MIT. He feels grateful for the opportunity to conduct research alongside leading faculty members at SEAS.

For Golowich, who plans to continue into graduate school and pursue a research career, the possibility of becoming a mathematics trailblazer continues to fuel his passion.

“I’m drawn to research because there is not necessarily a right answer to these questions,” he said. “That opens the doors to many different types of approaches. You can be very creative in figuring out what kind of solution might work. I really enjoy the ability to work on hard problems that people haven’t been able to figure out before.”