Fuzhen Zhang

Fuzhen Zhang, Ph.D.

Professor, Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences
Linear Algebra Professor Challenges Students with New Book

Fuzhen Zhang, Ph.D., has seen many college math students both daunted by and bored with the subject’s concepts and skills. "A lot of students in this country struggle with math," he said. "They fear math. They always say, ‘Math is not my subject. I don’t like math.’"

But, Zhang believes that focusing on problem solving can enable motivated students to find the subject more meaningful, gratifying, and even fun.

Zhang, a professor in the college’s Division of Math, Science, and Technology, is promoting this effort in mathematics education with the second edition of his book Linear Algebra: Challenging Problems for Students (The Johns Hopkins University Press).

Released in April 2009, the new edition features more than 425 sample math problems and solutions. Questions range in difficulty to include problems sure to challenge even the most seasoned mathematicians. The book is directed toward graduate-level students and math instructors, while designed to aid students in their understanding of linear algebra, a common prerequisite for collegiate math majors. Each chapter includes highlights of key concepts and hints for solving the problems.

Zhang, who teaches algebra and calculus classes at the college, has been researching algebra for more than two decades. Before arriving at what was then Nova University in 1993, he taught mathematics at the University of California—Santa Barbara; College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia; and Beijing Normal University in China.

"Math is fun for me," he said. "It’s something I can concentrate on and forget about everything else. I really enjoy working on the problems and making new problems."

The book has been well received internationally, said Zhang, who is also a collaborating editor at The American Mathematical Monthly Magazine and an editor at the journal for theInternational Linear Algebra Society.

He collected the problems featured in the new book based on research, brainstorming, interesting problems from other sources, and his experiences in the classroom. "When you’re talking to students and you’re explaining the basic concepts, sometimes you come
up with good ideas yourself," said Zhang, who is also a volunteer math teacher for a small group of students who participate in a Chinese-language program in the town of Davie.

"These students are motivated, but they are bored with math in school," he said. "They like more challenging problems." For students interested in the book, "they need to like mathematics and like problem solving. Otherwise, it will be difficult," Zhang said. "A student must have the basic skills and the background before they can use this book. I purposely chose challenging problems."