“I was pretty good at most subjects except math,” June Huh told the New York Times. “Math was notably mediocre, on average, meaning on some tests I did reasonably OK. But other tests, I nearly failed.”
Now, Huh is one of four 2022 recipients of the Fields Medal, the highest international award for mathematicians.
Born in California to South Korean parents, Huh attended Seoul National University, majoring in physics and astronomy. There, he met Heisuke Hironaka, a famous Japanese mathematician who won the Fields Medal in 1970.
Hironaka inspired Huh to study mathematics with him. After completing his master’s degree, Huh applied to a dozen Ph.D. programs in the United States. He attended the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and finished his degree at the University of Michigan in 2014.
While there, Huh proved Read’s conjecture — an open-ended equation that had stumped mathematicians for 40 years. He’s gone on to prove several more theoretical problems related to chromatic polynomials, which are at the center of algebraic graph theory.
He received the Fields Medal specifically for his proof of three more theoretical problems and integration of two theories into algebra and combinatorics (the study of arranging and counting).
Simply put, Huh has advanced the study of geometric objects. He now teaches at Princeton University, splitting his time between teaching and research.
The Fields Medal is awarded every four years to recognize outstanding mathematical talent across the world.
Huh is the first Korean American to win the award and the 15th American winner in the award’s 86-year history.
“I felt gratitude to my teachers and collaborators. They are the source of all my mathematical outputs,” Huh said of receiving his award. “I mostly acted as a vessel of ideas they planted on me.”