Don Davis, professor of mathematics at Lehigh, and Ph.D. student Katarzyna Potocka recently returned from Kinosaki, Japan, where they were both speakers at the International Conference on Algebraic Topology and took part in a cultural immersion experience.
Potocka was the only female speaker and the only graduate student speaker at the conference, which was sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation and its Japanese equivalent, Davis says.
"It was quite an honor to be invited," says Potocka, whose talk focused on the number of summands in the v1-periodic homotopy groups of SU (n). "I had the opportunity to not only meet so many famous mathematicians and have some positive interaction with them, but also to experience the Japanese culture."
Those attending the conference stayed in a "ryokan," or Japanese-style inn, which required traditional Japanese dress, served eight-course Japanese meals, and provided sleeping mats instead of beds for its guests.
"It was a very exotic experience," said Davis, who theorized that Potocka was invited to the conference after its American coordinator was impressed by her talk at the geometry and topology conference held at Lehigh in June.
Potocka, who emigrated to the United States from her native Poland during high school, initially learned about Lehigh from one of her professors—Lehigh graduate Cathy Liebars ’95—at the College of New Jersey, where she earned her undergraduate degree.
"I heard that it had a nice atmosphere for female graduate students, so I came to visit and was impressed," she says. "When I saw how many women there were in this department, I knew I could feel comfortable here."
Since she arrived in the fall of 1999, Potocka has finished the work on her dissertation in the area of algebraic topology specializing in homotopy theory, and will begin the process of securing a position at university that values both research and teaching.