LI Math Whiz Honors His Mentor-Far Out

LI math whiz honors his mentor – far out

February 16, 2011 By DANA KLOSNER   Special to Newsday

Carlos Marques, a math professor at Farmingdale State College, recently had a planet named for him by a former student, Joshua Pfeffer of Plainview. (Feb. 15, 2011) (Credit: Danielle Finkelstein)

It’s not every day you get a planet named for you.

For Carlos Marques, that day happened when he learned that a student he had mentored had named a planet – admittedly, a minor planet – in his honor: Carmarques.

How that student, Joshua Pfeffer, 18, of Plainview came to make that choice is a story of a love of mathematics and a mentorship that began eight years ago.

“I always loved patterns, calendars and numbers,” Joshua said recently. ” . . . Math is an art in itself that I want to study my entire life. It’s always been my passion.”

His father, Daniel Pfeffer, said that Joshua “at a tender age had an understanding of things he hadn’t been taught. He was always far ahead in math in school.

“I didn’t know any math, and my wife knew less. We went to a friend of ours who was a colleague of Dr. Marques [at Farmingdale State College]. We asked her if she knew someone that was just a bit smarter than I am to teach Joshua. She said, ‘He needs a proper education. I’m going to introduce you to Carlos.’ ”

Marques, associate professor and acting chairman of the math department at Farmingdale State, began meeting with 10-year-old Joshua for five hours a week, sometimes more.

Joshua was in fifth grade, and Marques said he started with high school math. When Joshua reached eighth grade, they moved on to college-level course work. Joshua also took upper-level math courses at Farmingdale State, starting with abstract Algebra.

“It’s a very advanced course,” Marques said. “He was the best student I had. He could solve all the problems.”

By the time Joshua entered high school at North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, since he was beyond the math studies there Marques became his sole math instructor.

Joshua went on to win several mathematics competitions, and was named an Intel Science Talent Search 2010 finalist. That achievement led the International Astronomical Union to give him the honor of naming a planet after the person who he felt had the greatest influence on his scholarship.

Marques learned of his namesake planet – a minor orb discovered in 1988 that lies between Mars and Jupiter, about 182 million miles away – in the fall.

As for Joshua, it’s clear he has a deep appreciation of both math and his teacher.

“Equations are beautiful,” he said. “In math you experience ideas of creating spaces and shapes that often transcend ourselves.”

Of Marques, he says: “He helped me develop an appreciation for math in its truest form. The education was priceless; I will study mathematics for the rest of my life.”

He said his mentor’s advice extends beyond math.

“He helped me develop not only as a mathematician but as an individual,” he said. “He provided me with tools I will take with me into the future. For that I will remember him for the rest of my life.”

Dana Klosner