Tell me about yourself:
My name is Swee Hong Chan, a mathematician working in combinatorics and probability.
I was born and raised in Indonesia until I completed my high-school education, and then I went to Nanyang Technological University in Singapore for undergraduate education. After that, I went to Cornell University for graduate study, where I received my Ph.D in 2019. Then, I went to UCLA as a Hedrick Adjunct Assistant Professor from 2019-2012, before finally coming to Rutgers University as an Assistant Professor.
How did you become interested in math?
My interest in math can be traced back to middle schools, when I learned about many fascinating facts about numbers.
As a kid, I liked (and still like) to check if the license plate number of passing-by cars is divisible by nine(9), as nine is considered an auspicious number in my family.
I was then overjoyed when I learned about the fascinating rule that, if the sum of digits of the number is divisible by nine, then the number itself is also divisible by nine. This allows me to be much more efficient in checking if a license plate number is divisible by nine, which in turn got me interested in the general mathematical principles explaining these facts.
As a student, how did you do undergraduate research?
I started undergraduate research with Professor Dmitrii V. Pasechnik after taking a graduate class he taught and got fascinated by the subject area. We worked together for half a year and made some progress to the problem he proposed, before finding out that the problem had been solved by other authors.
At first, I felt very disheartened upon learning about that, but my undergraduate advisor encouraged me to continue our work as he believed that our approach is different from the other authors. Thanks to his encouragement, we managed to solve the original problem together with a related problem along the way. As a faculty in Rutgers University, I hope to be able to be as encouraging and inspiring as my undergraduate advisor.
What are you researching? (in layman’s)
I am interested in understanding mathematical principles that govern various patterns and seemingly random events in daily lives.
One such example is the colloquial result about random walks that "a human walking (i.e. in 2-dimensions) around randomly will eventually find his way home, but a bird flying (i.e. in 3-dimensions) around randomly may get lost forever".
This is a classical result in probability theory that dates back to at least the early 20th-century, and part of my research is to understand if the same phenomenon will occur if the human and the bird do not make completely random movements but are following some basic pseudorandom rules.
Part of my research activities involves me riding a bicycle following these pseudorandom rules and trying to find my way back home, with varying results.
What are you excited about in joining Rutgers University?
I am excited about joining Rutgers University for the opportunity to work with the world-renowned faculties and researchers in the university, for the brilliant and highly motivated students in the university, and for the open, inclusive, and welcoming communities in Rutgers University.
I also enjoy various natural parks and bicycle paths around the area, which allows me to perform the aforementioned pseudorandom cycling experiments.