Once a high school dropout over complications in his math courses, Princeton University mathematician June Huh has been named one of the recipients of the 2022 Fields Medal, one of the most prestigious awards in mathematics, in recognition of his work in combinatorics. The International Mathematical Union (IMU) presents the medal every four years to researchers under the age of 40 based on the influence of their existing work and on their “promise of future achievement.”
While studying physics and astronomy at Seoul National University, Huh enrolled in an algebraic geometry course taught by visiting professor, Heisuke Hironaka, the Fields Medal recipient in 1970. While attending this class, Huh became inspired by Hironaka’s research in mathematics, sparking his own interest in research-level mathematics. Under Hironaka’s mentorship, Huh pursued mathematics for his graduate degree and become Hironaka’s mentee and personal assistant. From this experience, Huh went on to pursue his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Michigan.
Through his studies, Huh went on to make groundbreaking research in mathematics, especially in his areas of expertise: geometry, topology, and the combinatorics of algebraic varieties. While studying his Ph.D., Huh proved Read’s conjecture — an open-ended equation that went unsolved by the math community for 40 years. This marked the beginning of his work to prove more theoretical math problems related to the algebraic graph theory.
Huh’s greatest accomplishment thus far, and one of the main reasons for his Fields Medal, comes from his work on the Rota conjecture. In 2015, in collaboration with Eric Katz and Karim Adiprasito, the team was able to prove the Rota conjecture by applying Hodge theory, or combining tools from disparate areas of mathematics in novel ways. In more recent works, Huh and collaborators proposed a general framework that treat discrete objects from a geometric viewpoint. This led to proofs of several other longstanding problems in combinatorics, such as the 1972 conjecture of Mason and the 1973 conjecture of Dowling-Wilson.
“His mathematical talent is only matched by his amazing ability as a communicator,” Igor Rodnianski, Princeton mathematics professor and department chair, said of Huh, “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.”
Huh received the Fields Award in Helsinki, Finland, along with four other individuals from around the world. Not only was Huh the only American recipient of the award for 2022, but the 15th American and the first Korean-American to ever win the accolade in the award’s 86-year history.
“I felt gratitude to my teachers and collaborators,” ShareAmerica quoted of Huh for his award. “They are the source of all my mathematical outputs. I mostly acted as a vessel of ideas they planted on me.”
Sources: Wikipedia, ShareAmerica, Princeton University