A Path Less Taken to the Peak of the Math World

June Huh, Visiting Professor in the School of Mathematics, thought he had no talent for math until a chance meeting with a legendary mind, former Member and Fields Medalist Heisuke Hironaka. A decade later, his unorthodox approach to mathematical thinking has led to major breakthroughs.

A bad score on an elementary school test convinced him that he was not very good at math. As a teenager he dreamed of becoming a poet. He didn’t major in math, and when he finally applied to graduate school, he was rejected by every university save one.

Nine years later, at the age of 34, Huh is at the pinnacle of the math world. He is best known for his proof, with the mathematicians Eric Katz and former Member Karim Adiprasito, of a long-standing problem called the Rota conjecture.

Even more remarkable than the proof itself is the manner in which Huh and his collaborators achieved it — by finding a way to reinterpret ideas from one area of mathematics in another where they didn’t seem to belong.

“If you look at mathematics as a kind of continent divided into countries, I think in June’s case nobody really told him there were all these borders. He’s definitely not constrained by any demarcations,” said Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director of IAS.

Read more about Huh's unique journey to and through mathematics at Quanta.