Korean American Mathematician Receives Fields Medal

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by John Phelan via Wikimedia Creative Commons

A Korean American mathematician from Princeton University has been awarded the 2022 Fields Medal.

June Huh, 40, received the medal for his work in combinatorics, Princeton University news reports. Every four years the International Mathematical Union (IMU) gives medals to researchers based on the influence of their existing work and the promise of their future work.

The medal was presented to Huh and three other early-career researchers at an awards ceremony in Helsinki, Finland.

Huh was born in California and grew up in South Korea. When he was in high school, he dreamt of becoming a poet.

“I was pretty good at most subjects except math,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. “Math was notably mediocre, on average, meaning on some tests I did reasonably OK. But other tests, I nearly failed.”

Things changed when he attended Seoul National University, where he studied physics and astronomy. He planned to become a science journalist. In his final year of college, he rediscovered math during a class on algebraic geometry taught by Dr. Heisuke Hironaka.

According to The New York Times, Huh went on to pursue a master’s degree in math with Hironaka. Eventually, he applied to doctorate programs in the United States. He was rejected from every program he applied to except the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

At Illinois, Huh began his work in combinatorics, a field of study that figures out the number of ways things can be shuffled.

Huh is now a professor at Princeton University. According to the university’s website, IMU awarded him the Fields medal for his work to prove Rota conjecture in 2015 by applying Hodge theory. He and his collaborators have also “proposed a general framework that treats discrete objects from a geometric viewpoint.” 

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