Richard Tapia appears here on the cover of The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Newsletter with his '57 Chevy, one of the eight classic cars that he has restored and shown around the country.
The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), the world's largest motorsports governing body, recently contacted Professor Richard Tapia regarding a racing problem they wanted to solve. They were interested in holding a "fair" drag race between two vehicles of different performance potentials.
Professor Tapia, Noah Harding Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University has had a love of cars and racing all his life. From their early teens, he and his twin brother Bobby have built and raced record-setting cars. In 1968, Bobby set the world record for fuel dragsters at 6.54 seconds.
Born in Los Angeles to parents who immigrated from Mexico as young teenagers, Professor Tapia received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles. He has contributed to mathematical optimization theory and iterative methods for nonlinear problems. His current research is in the area of algorithms for constrained optimization problems and interior-point methods for linear and nonlinear programming. Under Professor Tapia's leadership, his department has become a national leader in producing women and underrepresented minority Ph.D. recipients in the mathematical sciences.
Professor Tapia has won many awards both for his contributions to the mathematical sciences and for his success in mentoring underrepresented groups. A few recent ones include: Lifetime Mentor Award, American Association for the Advancement of Science 1998; Appointed to the National Science Board by President Clinton ,1996; Received Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring Program, 1996; Selected Hispanic Engineer of the Year by Hispanic Engineer Magazine 1996; and Awarded the inaugural A. Nico Habermann Award by the Computer Research Association for outstanding contribution in aiding members of underrepresented groups within the computing research community. In 1994, Dr. Tapia became the first native-born Hispanic to be inducted into the National Academy of Engineering.
Professor Tapia has merged his love for mathematics with his love for cars. Read Hitting the Highway with Mathematician Dr. Richard Tapia to see how he's managed this. Another article I Must Help describes how he has striven to increase participation of underrepresented minorities into science.
The Fair Head Start in a Drag Race is a good example of one of the racing problems that Prof. Tapia solved using mathematical arguments.