With our release of An Introductory Course in Elementary Number Theory, we asked the author, Dr. Wissam Raji, Ph.D., a few questions about himself, his work, the textbook, and his thoughts on education. Learn more about the book here.
Dr. Raji, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am currently an assistant professor of Mathematics at the American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanon and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Mathematical Sciences at AUB. I moved to the States in 2002 to join Temple University in Philadelphia where I obtained my Ph.D. in mathematics in 2006. My field of research is analytic number theory. I am also the president and founder of an NGO called the Center for Development, Democracy and Governance (CDDG), operating in Lebanon, whose main mission is to promote good democratic practices and rural development.
What problems do you work on in mathematics?
I am a number theorist whose main research concentration is the theory of automorphic forms and automorphic integrals. In the last four years, I have been working on Eichler isomorphism theorems between the space of modular forms and the cohomology group of period polynomials. I teach graduate and undergraduate courses in Mathematics and I also supervise graduate students seeking Master’s degrees.
Why is number theory important?
Number theory constitutes the building blocks of the fundamentals in Mathematics. It is the theory of integers, and integers are where it all started. Kronecker said: “God made integers and the rest is the work of men.”
What about for non-mathematicians?
To non-mathematicians, number theory is a brain teaser. It deals with problems which in many cases are easy to describe but hard to solve. Learning number theory disciplines the mind and creates a systematic way of thinking that attracts many people to learn more about mathematics.
What led you to write this textbook?
After using several books to teach a course on elementary number theory, I could not really find a book that addresses beginners such that one can learn the subject independently. Moreover, many books contain extra material that is good but unnecessary for students to tackle in a beginner course.
This text is intended for undegraduate students majoring in Mathematics and computer science. However, the subject is presented in a way where no mathematical background is required with the exception of the last three chapters. As a result, anybody who wishes to learn the subject can smoothly follow all the concepts presented.
How did you learn about the Open Textbook Challenge?
I was sent an email from Saylor Foundation asking me if I would referee math courses in analysis. I visited the website and found out about the open textbook challenge.
Were you previously familiar with open education initiatives or open education resources (OER)?
Not really. It was my first time learning about open education initiatives other than official videos posted on YouTube by selected professors in some U.S. universities.
How do you envision the role of higher education in the twenty-first century? How must it change? How must it stay the same?
I do believe that the evolution in education should go in harmony with all the technological development. With increasingly easy access to the internet, it is becoming clear that access for education will be free.
How do you see your role as an educator?
As an educator, I believe I should always be up to date on the developments in education. Moreover, I should always promote the belief that education should be free for everybody and thus it will be one’s choice to either develop their educational skills or not.
Any advice for learners?
My advice to students is to believe in their capabilities. It is not about the school you attend, it is all about the inner will to achieve and passion you have for the subject you are studying.