The curve of a surface can tell us many things about an object’s overall shape. This idea is a key component of “differential geometry,” a field forever changed by Shiing-shen Chern.
A Chinese-American mathematician, Chern created mathematical quantities, dubbed “characteristic classes,” to categorize different types of surfaces – from the curvature of a doughnut to the exterior of a sphere.
These measurements of twisting and bending in a surface are known today as “Chern classes.”
In addition to this discovery, Chern also helped many young scholars achieve their dreams, establishing three mathematics institutes during a career spanning 70 years.
He founded the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at U.C. Berkeley and the Institute of Mathematics of the Academia Sinica in China.
In 1984, he started the Nankai Institute of Mathematics at Nankai University in Tianjin. Chern, then in a wheelchair, lived in a house on campus, working up until his death.