Princeton mathematician June Huh awarded prestigious Fields Medal

Tuesday, Jul 5, 2022
by Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications

Princeton University mathematician June Huh was awarded today 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.”

June Huh headshot

June Huh

Photo by Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications

The honor, often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of mathematics,” was awarded to Huh and three other early career researchers at the 2022 IMU Award Ceremony in Helsinki, Finland. Awards were bestowed on two other Princeton professors at the ceremony: the Abacus Medal to Mark Braverman in the Department of Computer Science, and the Carl Friedrich Gauss Prize to Elliott Lieb, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics, Emeritus, and Professor of Mathematical Physics, Emeritus.

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

Huh’s research focuses on geometry, topology, and the combinatorics of algebraic varieties. At the award ceremony, the IMU played a video profiling Huh in which he explained his work.

Among Huh’s accomplishments cited by the IMU, he and collaborators Eric Katz and Karim Adiprasito proved the Rota conjecture in 2015 by applying Hodge theory, combining tools from disparate areas of mathematics in novel ways.In more recent works, Huh and collaborators proposed a general framework that treats 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.

Igor Rodnianski, a professor of mathematics and the department chair, said Huh is “a remarkable mathematician whose work is reshaping the field of geometric combinatorics. 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.”

Huh said he learned of the Fields honor in an after-hours phone call from the IMU president. Huh said he was excited but wasn’t sure if he should awaken his wife. After waiting 10 minutes, he did. “I told her the news and then she said, ‘Oh, I knew it — it will happen,’ and then fell back to sleep,” he said.

Huh noted that he came to mathematics relatively late in life for the field. He received an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy at Seoul National University. Inspired and mentored by Heisuke Hironaka, a visiting professor from Japan who won the Fields Medal in 1970, Huh switched to mathematics for his masters degree at Seoul National University and continued for his Ph.D. under Mircea Mustaţă at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in 2014.

Huh said he sometimes regrets that he didn’t focus on math earlier. “But at other times, it seems that very curvy road I went through was actually the optimal path, at least for me,” he said.

Huh has received numerous other awards for his work, including the New Horizons in Mathematics Prize from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation (2019) and a Clay Research Fellowship (2014). He was invited to speak at the 2018 International Congress of Mathematicians.

He joined the Princeton faculty in 2021 and had taught at the University twice previously: in Spring 2017, when he was the Oswald Veblen Fellow at Princeton, and in the 2019-2020 academic year, when he was the Robert and Luisa Fernholz Visiting Professor of Mathematics.

Huh is the ninth Fields Medal recipient from the Princeton faculty. Previous laureates include Manjul Bhargava, Princeton’s Robert C. Gunning *55 and R. Brandon Fradd ’83 Professor in Mathematics, and Charles Fefferman, the Herbert E. Jones, Jr. ’43 University Professor of Mathematics.

Rodnianski called the award to Huh “an outstanding occasion for the Princeton mathematics department and the University.”

The other Fields Medal awardees were Hugo Duminil-Copin of the Université de Genève and Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHÉS), James Maynard of Oxford University and Maryna Viazovska of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL).

This article was originally published on the University News website.