Faculty Spotlight: Thomas Fai

Every month, we interview a faculty member for our undergraduate newsletter. In September 2022, we spoke to Thomas Fai, Assistant Professor of Mathematics.

Can you tell us a little about your academic background and journey to Brandeis?  

As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, I double-majored in math and physics. I realized that I wanted to be working at the intersection of these different subjects and decided to pursue applied math in graduate school. This led me to attend New York University's Courant Institute for my PhD. This was a very rewarding experience for me — my adviser, Charles Peskin, was an inspiring example of what it means to be a scholar, and my classmates in the program were a group of bright and passionate students from across the globe.

Your research is focused on the modeling and simulation of biological phenomena. What does that entail? 

My main research area involves building mathematical models and simulations of physiological flows such as blood flow and flow of proteins and nutrients inside of cells. The fact that each cell in our bodies contains an extensive transport network is fascinating to me, particularly because there are some striking similarities — and some drastic differences! — compared to what a civil engineer might have come up with. In my group, we use mathematical approaches such as differential equations and network theory to understand the nature of these kinds of flows.

Where could this research lead in the future?

I hope this research can lead to further collaborations with biologists and clinicians, with potential medical applications down the road. For example, one of the projects I'm working on (with PhD student Simon Huynh) is to better understand the development of varicose veins in our bodies. Currently, one of the best available treatments for varicose veins is compression stockings, which can help relieve symptoms and prevent the varicose veins from getting worse but does not cure them. It would be exciting to use mathematics to help come up with more advanced treatments.

What excites you about working with Brandeis undergraduate students?

I've had the opportunity to advise several undergraduate students on their research projects at Brandeis. I believe undergraduate research experience is valuable because it helps students develop their confidence as mathematicians as well as their independence and ability to break down difficult problems into smaller parts. Brandeis undergraduates are driven, bright, and bring a lot of enthusiasm to their work. Their enthusiasm is infectious and seeing problems through their eyes makes working on them a lot of fun for me, too.