Prominent mathematician accepts appointment at UChicago

Mathematician Ngô Bao Châu, who made one of Time magazine's top 10 scientific discoveries of 2009, has accepted a faculty appointment at the University of Chicago. Ngô will become a professor of mathematics, effective Sept. 1, 2010.

"This is one of the great mathematicians of our time, very clearly," said Robert Fefferman, dean of the Physical Sciences Division and the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics. "I expect really great things from this young man."

Ngô, 37, came to Time's attention for decisive advances he recently made in two central areas of modern mathematics: number theory and representation theory. "He proved a basic result, a matching conjecture called 'the fundamental lemma,' so named because it represents the central gate for progress in the Langlands program," said Peter Constantin, the Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics and chairman of the Mathematics Department.

Time described the Langlands program as "an ambitious and revolutionary theory" that connects two major branches of mathematics. Named for Robert Langlands, a mathematician at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., the Langlands program consists of a conjectural set of general correspondences between algebraic and geometric objects, Constantin explained. "The proof by Ngô opens dramatically new avenues for the geometric Langlands program," he said.

Langlands tried to prove the fundamental lemma during the 1970s. In later years, the University of Chicago's Robert Kottwitz and three colleagues from other institutions developed approaches to the problem. Constantin said Ngô "added numerous striking ideas" to their work in "a 200-page masterpiece."

In addition to Kottwitz, the William J. Friedman and Alicia Townsend Friedman Professor in Mathematics, Ngô said he had learned a lot from Vladimir Drinfeld, the Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics, as well as a host of other UChicago mathematicians whose specialties are closely allied with his: Alexander Beilinson, the David and Mary Winton Green University Professor in Mathematics; Spencer Bloch, the R.M. Hutchins Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Mathematics; and professors Victor Ginzburg, Kazuya Kato and Madhav Nori.

The opportunity to work more closely with colleagues at UChicago "certainly has a lot to do with my decision to come to Chicago," Ngô said.

"People are addressing some of the most fundamental questions in mathematics at the Department of Mathematics of Chicago. I have been having a mathematical conversation with Bob Kottwitz for many years. I count on the pleasure of pursing this conversation with him for the years to come."

A native of Hanoi, North Vietnam, Ngô received his doctoral degree from Universit'e Paris-Sud in 1997. Currently a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., Ngô received the Oberwolfach Prize in 2007, the Prix Sophie Germain de l'Acad'emie des Sciences de Paris in 2007 and the Clay Research Award in 2004.

"With the hire of Ngô, the recent arrival of Kato, the presence of Beilinson and Drinfeld and our other stellar faculty, the Department of Mathematics is pursuing its historical leading role in the country," Constantin said.

"We are not a large department, so we cannot cover all aspects of mathematics. But what we do, we try to do at the highest level, bar none: The department is committed to uncompromised intellectual leadership. The most important thing for us is the fact that strength builds strength, and by that I mean attracting even better undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs and junior faculty members, and maintaining a deeply fulfilling mathematical activity."

Added Fefferman: "The standards are extremely high, and we are really quite proud of the quality of the Mathematics Department. Very, very proud, and Ngô is a personification of this."