July 6, 2022

PU Math Professors Win Fields, Gauss, And Abacus Awards

By Donald Gilpin

June Huh
(Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite)

Princeton University Mathematics Professor June Huh has been awarded the 2022 Fields Medal by the International Mathematical Union (IMU) for his work in transforming the field of geometric combinatorics. At the July 5 award ceremony in Helsinki, Finland, Huh and three other mathematicians received the Fields Medals — which are presented every four years to researchers under the age of 40 — honoring their past achievements and their promise of future accomplishments.

At the same ceremony, Princeton University Professors Mark Braverman and Elliott Lieb were also honored by the IMU with awards for their contributions to mathematics and related fields. Braverman received the Abacus Medal for achievement in mathematical aspects of information science, and Lieb received the Gauss Prize for mathematical contributions with significant applications outside the field.

The IMU Fields Medal citation noted that Huh, “using methods of Hodge theory, tropical geometry, and singularity theory, with his collaborators, has transformed the field of geometric combinatorics.”

Before joining the Princeton faculty in 2021, Huh was a professor at Stanford University from 2020 to 2021 and earlier a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study and at Princeton. He was born in California in 1983, but grew up in Korea, where he dropped out of high school to devote his efforts to writing poetry. He received his undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy at Seoul National University (SNU).

Under the mentorship of Fields Medalist Heisuke Hironaka, Huh transitioned into the field of mathematics, earned a master’s degree at SNU in 2009, and eventually went on to earn his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in 2014. Since then he has received numerous awards for his work in mathematics.

Huh is “a remarkable mathematician whose work is reshaping the field of geometric combinatorics,” said Princeton University Mathematics Professor and Department Chair Igor Rodnianski, as quoted in a press release from Princeton University’s Office of Communications. “His mathematical talent is only matched by his amazing ability as a communicator.

Very rarely one meets a mathematician whose theorems are as deep as their expositions are elegant. We are delighted for June receiving this award and proud to be his colleagues.”

Braverman, whose award citation noted his work on information complexity as well as contributions “to diverse areas at the interface of theoretical computer science and mathematical sciences,” joined the Princeton faculty in 2011 and has been a full professor in the Computer Science Department since 2015.

Describing Braverman’s list of accomplishments as “astonishing,” Princeton University Computer Science Department Chair Jennifer Rexford added, “Our modern networked lives rely on communication protocols that allow multiple computers to work together to compute answers to important questions. Mark’s ingenious research lays foundations for understanding how multiple parties can cooperate efficiently — minimizing the amount of information they need to share to complete their task.”

In receiving the Carl Friederich Gauss Prize, Lieb, emeritus professor of physics and mathematical physics at Princeton, was cited by the IMU for “deep mathematical contributions of exceptional breadth which have shaped the fields of quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, computational chemistry, and quantum information theory.”

The citation continued, noting that Lieb, “driven by problems in and applications to physics, has unraveled elegant and fundamental mathematical structures, vastly transcending the original motivations. In doing so, Lieb has introduced concepts which have shaped whole fields of research in mathematics even beyond his original area, while having a transformative impact on physics and chemistry.”

Lieb came to Princeton in 1975 after working at IBM and at several other universities, including Northeastern and MIT. Rodnianski described him as “a leading figure in mathematical physics of the last 70 years,” whose “profound and lasting influence has changed and in some cases redefined multiple branches of mathematical physics, including quantum mechanics, statistical physics, computational chemistry, and others.”

“Elliott is a legend,” said Herman Verlinde, chair of Princeton University’s Department of Physics.