Professor June Huh is
a mathematician at Institute for Advanced Study and
Princeton University.

A MATH GENIUS BLOOMS LATE AND CONQUERS HIS FIELD

Huh’s math career began with much less acclaim.
A bad score on an elementary school test convinced him that he was not very good at math.
As a teenager he dreamed of becoming a poet. He didn’t major in math, and when he finally applied
to graduate school, he was rejected by every university except one.

Nine years later, at the age of 34, Huh is at the pinnacle of the math world.
He is best known for his proof,
with the mathematicians Eric Katz
and Karim Adiprasito,
of a long-standing problem called the Rota conjecture.

Even more remarkable than the proof itself is the manner in which Huh and his
collaborators achieved it—by finding a way to reinterpret ideas from one area of mathematics in
another where they didn’t seem to belong. This past spring Institute for Advanced Study
offered Huh a long-term fellowship,
a position that has been extended to only three young mathematicians before.
Two of them (Vladimir Voevodsky and
Ngô Bảo Châu) went on to win the Fields Medal,
the highest honor in mathematics.

That Huh would achieve this status after starting mathematics so late is almost as improbable as if he had picked up a
tennis racket at 18 and won Wimbledon at 20. It’s the kind of out-of-nowhere journey that simply doesn’t happen in
mathematics today, where it usually takes years of specialized training even to be in a position to make new discoveries.