Williams Professors Stephen Freund and Chad Topaz Awarded $400,000 in NSF Grants That Support Access in Math and Science

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, executive assistant; tele: 413-597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., October 25, 2018—Williams College faculty members Stephen Freund, professor of computer science, and Chad Topaz, professor of mathematics, have received a combined $400,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Research by Freund and his students will look at ways to automate the writing of software for multicore processors and multiprocessor hardware, which is currently a difficult and error-prone undertaking. Topaz’s group, meanwhile, will study the significance of two unique forms of patterning in the natural world: the striping of vegetation growth in Africa and elsewhere, which may point to desertification due to climate change or other factors; and swarms—bird flocks, fish schools and insect swarms—which scientists have struggled to characterize and model because they are neither completely random nor perfectly organized.

The two, three-year initiatives will also create research opportunities in math and science for students who are underrepresented in those fields, including women and first-generation college students.

Freund’s project, “Synchronicity: A Framework for Synthesizing Concurrent Software from Sequential and Cooperative Specifications,” explores ways to automatically synthesize high-performance concurrent software systems for multicore processors and multiprocessor hardware. Such software is currently written by hand—a process that is notoriously challenging and error prone.

This research has the potential to reduce the expense of developing computing infrastructure by eliminating the costly process of manually writing, testing and reasoning about concurrent software.

Topaz’s project, “Variational and Topological Approaches to Complex Dynamical Systems,” investigates two pattern-forming systems in nature. First, his team will examine changes in large-scale, striped patterns of vegetation in semi-arid environments such as the Horn of Africa, to see how they may be indicators of climate change and desertification. The team, which includes undergraduates from Williams College, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Harvey Mudd College, will use analytical and computational approaches to model these patterns and understand their properties.

The project will also look at collective behavior that may arise when organisms interact, as in bird flocks, fish schools and insect swarms. The behavior of these groups tends to be neither completely random nor perfectly organized, and thus can be difficult to characterize. Topaz’s team will use and develop tools from a field called topological data analysis to better understand and describe collective behavior.

At Williams since 2002, Freund has taught a range of courses in the computer science department, including Introduction to Computer Science, Data Structures and Advanced Programming, and Principles of Programming Languages. He received a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University in 2000.

Topaz came to Williams in 2017 and has taught such courses as Computational Linear Algebra, Mathematical Modeling and Applied Partial Differential Equations. He received a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Northwestern University in 2002.


Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.






Published October 25, 2018