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On Stage in Seoul

If you’re a mathematician, you know you’ve arrived when you’re invited to lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM), the biggest and most prestigious mathematics conference in the world. That honor now belongs to Nancy Hingston, a math professor at The College of New Jersey who will be one of the speakers at the conference in Seoul, Korea, Aug. 13 – 21, 2014.

Nancy Hingston
Nancy Hingston

“I’m very excited about the opportunity of hearing from mathematicians all over the world, and not just the details of their work, but their big ideas,” says Hingston, a scholar and professor at TCNJ since 1990 who has spent five academic years as a member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Her talk, though grounded in her research, will likewise be presented through the lens of a lifetime’s search for clarity and solutions in math.

She works on problems in differential geometry, which applies calculus to curves and surfaces. One way to understand her research is to view it as “studying the physics of an imaginary universe,” she says. “There may be pragmatic applications, but that’s not why we do it. For example, one problem I worked on for a long time had to do with a very, very simple problem—a two-dimensional universe with one light ray buzzing around.

Hingston, who earned her PhD in mathematics from Harvard University in 1981, actually spent her first year in graduate school studying physics. She then switched to math. Early on during her career she tended to work alone, but now prefers to collaborate with other mathematicians. “It’s an amazing, intense experience, especially if you have two people who are not quite from the same background. Sometimes I think the feeling is that ideas are just coming out of the air.”

Teaching undergraduates, and conveying the sense of drama and excitement to be found in her discipline, is her other passion. “I think I would like to teach forever,” says Hingston, a mother of three ages 17 to 27.

The ICM, first held in 1897 in Zurich, takes place every four years. A number of prizes are awarded, including the Field Medal, described as mathematics’ equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

Mary Jo Patterson