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BYU's mathlete factory: Student scores seventh scientific publication

  • Student Sebastian Acosta is the lead author on a study that simulates how sounds waves scatter after hitting multiple objects
  • This marks the seventh time he has published in academic journals, the first six coming during Sebastian's undergrad days
  • Now a master's student, Sebastian has been mentored by Professor Vianey Villamizar since his sophomore year

A BYU student will soon publish his seventh paper in a peer-reviewed mathematical journal. And get this: Six of them were completed while he was still an undergrad.
Sebastian Acosta first teamed up with his mentor and professor Vianey Villamizar as a sophomore, neither realizing when they hit it off that their partnership would be so prolific.

Acosta is the lead author on publication number seven, which describes a technique to model sound waves as they hit multiple objects. The study will appear in the August issue of the Journal of Computational Physics, a high-ranking journal in the field of mathematical physics.

“I’m really grateful and I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Dr. Villamizar,” said Acosta, who majored in both math and mechanical engineering from Santiago, Chile. “I’ve learned more doing research with him than in any other class, or even combinations of classes. As far as my education – it is the greatest experience I’ve had.”

Acosta and fellow math majors Patrick Turley and Sam Dittmer illustrate BYU’s focus on undergraduate mentoring. The faculty access and research opportunities provided to BYU undergrads are typically reserved for grad students at other universities. Acosta benefited from mentored-research grants awarded by the department and the university.

In the new study, Acosta and Villamizar computed how sound waves scatter after striking multiple objects of complex shapes. The visual representations look like pin balls that shatter and continue to ricochet in all directions. Their new method more efficiently simulates acoustic scattering than previous methods have. This technique could have application in the field of medical imaging, such as with MRIs and ultrasounds.

Acosta acknowledges the trust Professor Villamizar gives him as a student during their regular research meetings where they share ideas and explore new approaches.

“He knows a lot more than I do, but he trusts me and lets me express my ideas, and he gives me the chance to write everything I am thinking,” Acosta said.

Villamizar acknowledged that it is very rare for a student to publish as much as Acosta has in such a short time.

“His participation was more than the normal student,” Villamizar said. “He’s very mature and understanding of what we’re doing, and in suggesting ways to do it.”

Now in his first year working toward a master’s degree in BYU’s math program, Acosta plans to pursue a Ph.D. in applied math.

Writer: Jared Whipple

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