Helsinki, July 5 (Yonhap) — June Huh, an ethnic Korean American mathematician and professor at Princeton University, was named Tuesday the winner of this year’s Fields Medal, a prestigious international award given to mathematicians under 40 years of age for their achievements in the area.
The 39-year-old professor, who also serves as Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at the Korea Institute for Advanced Study (KIAS), became the first ethnic Korean scholar to win the award. , awarded every four years by the International Mathematical Union (IMU).
The IMU 2022 Awards Ceremony was held on Tuesday (local time) at the Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland.
The Fields Medal, first introduced in 1936, was founded to recognize and support young mathematical scholars who have made great contributions to the field of mathematics. It is often referred to as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in mathematics.
Huh was born in California in 1983, but grew up in South Korea. She graduated in physics and astronomy as an undergraduate college student from Seoul National University (SNU) and studied mathematics at the university’s postgraduate level. Huh earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 2014.
His mentor was Heisuke Hironaka, a renowned Japanese mathematician and recipient of the 1970 Fields Medal, who taught at SNU for a year as a visiting professor when Huh was in his final year of undergraduate studies.
Huh is often described as a case of a late bloomer, having said in an interview with Quanta magazine in 2017 that he didn’t think he was good at math growing up. Huh said that he studied poetry in his teens, seeing it as an area of creative expression.
One of Huh’s career accomplishments is the joint investigation to resolve the so-called Rota Excluded Minors Conjecture. Huh was the winner of the Samsung Ho-AM Prize in Science, for physics and mathematics, in 2021.
In an interview with the Yonhap News Agency in Helsinki, Huh said he felt a burden when he looked at the list of previous winners, including names of mathematicians he considered heroes for their great contributions to the field he was researching. algebraic geometry.
Huh said it was strange, weird and overwhelming that his name was on the list.
Regarding his work, the mathematician said that he does not start an investigation with an objective in mind, but that he generally tries to discover new mathematical structures and develop theories that fit.
When theories are well established, according to Huh, with those “glasses” on, he tries to see what he can understand that he couldn’t understand before.
The young mathematician also highlighted the importance of knowing how to quit when faced with complex problems and difficulties.
According to Huh, there are things that humanity is not prepared to understand in general and there are also cases where he personally is not prepared to study and understand a problem.
The mathematician said that leaving things open offers opportunities for “new kinds of failures”, leading to further exploration. Huh believes that one can discover new and interesting phenomena in the process, even when it is not the stated goal.
Huh also hailed the rapid growth of South Korea’s math level in the past 10 to 20 years.
The IMU raised South Korea’s status in its organization one place in February to its highest level, Group Five, after highly favorably evaluating the nation’s excellence in mathematics. South Korea became a member of the IMU in 1981 and started in Group One.
Huh said that starting in the bottom bracket of the IMU and finishing in the top bracket in a period of 30 to 40 years is almost unprecedented.
Huh said he thinks the national promotion reflected “the fact that (South Korean) young mathematicians, between 30 and 40 years old, are outstanding and talented, and the results of their studies.”
Huh plans to arrive in South Korea on Friday to spend the summer in Seoul conducting research at KIAS. The mathematician plans to speak to South Korean journalists via video conference on Wednesday at a press event organized by the Korea Mathematical Society and KIAS in Seoul.
Shortly after the ceremony, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol sent a congratulatory message to Huh, applauding his dedication and passion in “opening up a new horizon” in mathematics.
The president said winning the Fields Medal, also known as the Nobel Prize in mathematics, is an achievement that shows South Korea is on a par with other advanced countries, and the result of its devotion to mathematics and other basic sciences. .
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(2nd LD) June Huh becomes the first Korean-born scholar to win the Fields Medal | YONHAP NEWS AGENCY