Skip to main content

Faculty feature: Dr. Silviana Amethyst

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: Dr. Silviana Amethyst has been sharing the art of 3D-printed or sculpted math art in classes and lab space with her students. Shown here discussing a potential project are, from the left, Briar Weston, Caden Joergens, Amethyst and Finn Walker.

Dr. Silviana Amethyst has been teaching math at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for seven years, and the impact she is making is clear. Twice since early 2023, Amethyst has been recognized with the following institutional awards in the areas teaching, scholarly research and practices of inclusivity:

  • A Karlgaard Faculty Excellence Award, a donor-supported award that recognizes accomplished faculty in computer science, mathematics and physics. Recipients demonstrate excellence in “teaching, scholarship and service and are actively engaged in faculty-student collaborative research.”
  • UW-Eau Claire’s 2023 Excellence Award in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. She was nominated for “promoting an environment free of bias or discrimination and organizing/facilitating various academic and community events promoting diversity, respect and inclusion.”

Since joining UW-Eau Claire’s faculty, Amethyst, an associate professor of mathematics, has published five journal articles and supervised eight student-faculty research projects. She also served as a visiting scholar at the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics on two occasions and was a recent guest lecturer at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
Amethyst completed a Ph.D. in mathematics at Colorado State University, and her research interests span the fields of scientific computing, algebraic geometry and mathematical art. "3D printing caught my attention in 2013, and I loved how it could bring math into the real world for me," Amethyst says.

"To hold a mathematical surface in my hands, to see it lit up and glowing, to use so many processes to bring it to life and be able to show it to a general audience, that's really special. It's the intersection of all my skills: teaching, computer programming, soldering and electronics, using tools to shape things. And, working together with others. I hope people come see me and the other local makers at GEEKcon!" 

3D printed mathematical shape

Displayed at GEEKcon 2023: 3D-printed electronic interactive mathematical surface called the "Barth Sextic," created by Amethyst and former students William O'Brien and Samantha Maurer.

We caught up with Amethyst to learn more about her thoughts on teaching and being part of the campus and Eau Claire community.

1) What led you into teaching? Tell us about your path.

I have walked many paths to find myself teaching at UW-Eau Claire, and here is one. I started college wanting to be a history teacher and enjoyed taking a variety of history classes for a while. Eventually, I became interested in the beauty and power of mathematics as I took a History of Mathematics class. I was able to see the very human part of mathematics — the creative acts of mathematics — as a thing I could do, and decided to pursue a Ph.D.  As I earned my doctorate, I taught as a graduate teaching assistant and I loved the experience, though I was very bad at it. (I apologize to those first of my students. I learned much from those mistakes.) During my time as a postdoctoral researcher, I was able to teach C++, mathematical methods and other classes. I fell back in love with teaching.  

2) What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

Time is my most valued asset. I think we all become good at whatever we spend our time on, so be careful with what you choose to do with your limited time.  

I hate my cell phone. It's the worst thing in my life, and social media is but a poor proxy for real human connection.

Also, I wear a lot of purple, the first derivative of the quality of my handwriting is negative, and you should come to student help hours for every class you take from me.

3) What is something you’ve worked on at UW-Eau Claire that you’re especially passionate about?

Mathematical art and software to generate it. I study numerical algebraic geometry, and with my students I have written a bunch of software for computing mathematical objects. Algebraic surfaces are my favorite, and I love 3D printing them. My latest research trajectory has been methods for computing models of assemblable surfaces for 3D printing. I will have some of my art on display at GEEKcon on campus on Saturday, Dec. 2.

4) What do you enjoy most about being part of the UW-Eau Claire community?

The collaborative environment of my department and the growth of my students.  

5) What would you say are the most exciting things happening in the field/study of mathematics? Are there concerns you have about any trends in technology or other aspects of the field?

It's exciting and terrifying to see the potential of artificial intelligence. I see some amazing applications in my own field to help solve difficult problems in the world of solving polynomial systems, estimating properties of algebraic and geometric objects, and so on.

Societally, I have concerns that we're replacing knowledge with searching, learning with engagement and competence with the appearance of competence. I also worry about the centralizing aspects of AI, the homogenizing effects I suspect it will have, and the theft of talent from artists and producers. My hope is that AI systems will lead to solutions to the climate crisis.

6) If you hadn’t become a faculty member, what would you be doing for a living?

I would need many lifetimes to satisfy all my interests. I'd be a video game programmer, a chef or a lifetime waiter in an awesome restaurant, a car mechanic, a theatre technician, a stage performer ...

7) When you’re not on campus, where in Eau Claire is your favorite spot to be?

I'm a maker. I am driven to make things all the time, so my favorite spot is my home workshop. I also enjoy the three-bridge loop walk downtown, biking up to the High Bridge and soaring back down the hill, and playing pinball at Reboot Social.  

8) What was the last book you read outside of your academic reading? Would you recommend it?

"Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson. I love the cyberpunk genre, and this was a pretty solid entry — at least, the first half was. The second half often lacked storytelling and felt more like a research paper, but I still enjoyed it.