On Wednesday, May 19, the Math Club and mathematics department sponsored visiting speaker Professor Shing-Tung Yau of Harvard University. Professor Yau is a recipient of the prestigious Fields Medal, which honors excellence in mathematics research, and was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, nicknamed the “Genius Award,” in 1984. During Wednesday’s morning assembly and in a discussion group immediately following, he spoke with students about his life and work.
Professor Yau’s work is primarily in the field of differential geometry, which uses methods of calculus and algebra to study problems in geometry. His work links—and has made significant impact upon—the fields of both mathematics and physics. Professor Yau has contributed to Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity—one of the most distinguished applications of differential geometry—by proving that the sum of the universe’s energy has a positive value, a discovery that has helped mathematicians understand how black holes form. His work has also included direct applications to string theory.
Growing up as one of eight children with humble means in southern China, Professor Yau made his way Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he studied mathematics, to U.C. Berkeley, where he earned his Ph.D. in only two years, at the age of 22. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Clinton in 1997.