If mathematics is the language of science, then Shing-Tung Yau is its master interpreter.
Yau, a Chinese-born mathematician and educator, is best known for solving the mathematical equation behind the theory of everything, or string theory, which gestures that, at the deepest levels, our universe is built out of 10-dimensional, subatomic vibrating strings.
This fundamental contribution to differential geometry, dubbed the Calabi-Yau conjecture, had widespread results. Not only did it earn Yau the Fields Medal, the highest award in mathematics, in 1982; it answered longstanding questions posed by famed scientists like Albert Einstein, and influenced a wide rage of scientific disciplines, including physics and astronomy. His work, for example, helped the science community better understand black holes.
It also made him instantly famous, and he used this platform to educate others—in his classrooms at elite American institutions, like Harvard University, as well as in his home country.
Yau devoted himself to strengthening mathematics in China and promoting basic research. He arranged for Chinese students to the United States, donated money and books to Chinese children, and founded four mathematics institutes in cities like Hong Kong and Beijing.
By Sydni Dunn