Person: Chern, Shiing-shen
Shiing-shen Chern was a Chinese mathematician who made important contributions to geometry and algebraic topology.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Shiing-shen Chern, whose name can also be written as Chen Xingshen, was educated at home as well as occasionally attending Chia-hsing elementary school from the winter of 1917 until 1920.
- There Chern came to love mathematics and avidly solved the problems in Higher Algebra by H S Hall and S R Knight, and in geometry and trigonometry books by George Albert Wentworth and David Eugene Smith.
- This small university had about 300 students in total and Chern was one of a mathematics class of four students.
- After four years of study at Nankai University Chern was awarded a diploma and a B.Sc. in mathematics in 1930.
- There were few opportunities for mathematical research in China at this time but someone who was undertaking research in geometry, the topic that Chern had become interested in, was Dan Sun who worked in Peking.
- After taking the entrance examination for the Graduate School at Tsing Hua University, Peking, Chern was appointed as an assistant in the Department of Mathematics at that university in August 1930.
- When Chern arrived in Hamburg he was told that Erich Kähler, a Privatdozent at Hamburg, had just written a book describing Élie Cartan's mathematics and was about to run a seminar on the topic.
- After working under Blaschke and having many useful discussions with Kähler, Chern received his doctorate from Hamburg in 1936 having studied for less than two years.
- Although Chern knew Artin well and would have liked to have worked with him, the desire to continue working on differential geometry was the deciding factor and he went to Paris in September 1936.
- In retrospect, Chern feels that it was like learning a new language.
- In 1937 Chern left Paris to become professor of mathematics at Tsing Hua University.
- These talks between Weil and Chern were very influential for Chern and led to some of his most important work on characteristic classes.
- André Weil, who by this time was at the University of Chicago, arranged for Chern to be offered a full professorship at University of Chicago.
- From 1949 Chern worked in the United States accepting the chair of geometry at the University of Chicago after first making a short visit to Princeton.
- Chern remained at Chicago until 1960 when he went to the University of California, Berkeley.
- On this second occasion Chern gave the address Differential Geometry: Its Past and Its Future.
- He continued to live in Berkeley until 1999 when, at the age of 88, he returned to China where he made his home in Tianjin, where the Chern Institute of Mathematics of Nankai University had been set up in 1985.
- As we have already seen, his area of research was differential geometry where he studied the (now named) Chern characteristic classes in fibre spaces.
- Today, differential geometry is a major subject in mathematics and a large share of the credit for this transformation goes to Professor Chern.
- We end this biography with the "Chern song".
Born 26 October 1911, Chia-hsing (or Jiaxing), Chekiang province (now Zhejiang), China. Died 3 December 2004, Tianjin, Tianjin Municipality, China.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Origin China, Prize Shaw, Prize Wolf
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive