Famed UH Math Professor Inspires Medal

International Prize to Honor Lifelong Outstanding Achievements

A major new international prize in mathematics has been established in memory of internationally acclaimed mathematician Shiing-Shen Chern, a distinguished visiting professor emeritus at the University of Houston. 

Chern, lauded as one of the greatest geometers of the 20th century, devoted his life to mathematics in active research and education, as well as in nurturing the field whenever the opportunity arose.  Launched by the International Mathematical Union and the Chern Medal Foundation, the Chern Medal will be awarded every four years on the occasion of the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) to an individual whose accomplishments warrant the highest level of recognition for outstanding achievements in the field of mathematics. 

The medal will be awarded for the first time at the ICM 2010 conference in Hyderabad, India, to an individual whose lifelong outstanding achievements in the field of mathematics warrant the highest level of recognition. 

The medalist will receive a cash prize of $250,000 and must nominate one or more organizations to receive additional funding of $250,000 for the support of research, education or other outreach programs in mathematics.  It is hoped that the philanthropy requirement to promote mathematics will mirror the generosity Chern exhibited in support of the field during his lifetime, setting a standard for other mathematicians to continue this altruism on a personal level. 

Chern’s daughter, May Chu, believes the award is a fitting tribute to celebrate and extend the legacy of her father, who was recognized as a mathematics giant of the 20th century, an educator and a humanist.  Chu, herself a mathematician, is president of the S.S. Chern Foundation for Mathematical Research, which co-sponsored the award with the Simons Foundation, an organization that works to advance research that encourages collaboration. 

Her spouse and Chern’s son-in-law, Paul C.W. Chu, UH physics professor, T.L.L. Temple Chair of Science and executive director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston (TcSUH), praised Chern’s generosity in developing areas of excellence beyond mathematics.  For instance, Chern was the donor who initiated the establishment of the Houston International Materials Forum at TcSUH.  This forum recently was endowed by the Cullen Trust for Higher Education, which is one of three charitable trusts established by The Cullen Foundation in the 1970s. 

Chern’s continuing distinguished professorship appointment with the University of Houston’s mathematics department was approved in 1988 and involved visits and lectures that began in 1989.  For 10 years, he spent a major part of each spring semester at UH.  Additionally, from 1992 to 2000, he served as an editor of the Houston Journal of Mathematics, which is published by UH’s math department. 

“Chern’s annual visits to UH added much to the Houston-area mathematics community,” said Garret Etgen, professor and former chair of the mathematics department.  “In addition to his teaching and presentations, he completed significant mathematical research with several UH mathematics faculty.” 

During his visits to UH, Chern taught graduate mathematics courses and seminars that were attended by UH students and faculty, as well as being open to graduate students and faculty from Rice University.  He also gave public lectures that attracted mathematicians and physicists from most of the Houston-area institutions. 

To commemorate Chern’s first visit in 1989, UH’s mathematics department established what is now called the Texas Geometry and Topology Conference, which became an NSF-funded conference that continues to meet twice per year, alternating between UH, Rice, the University of Texas and other institutions on an ad hoc basis.  UH hosted the latest conference in the spring ’09 semester. 

More information on the Chern Medal can be found at http://www.mathunion.org/general/prizes/chern/details/


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