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High School Dropout Turned Princeton Prof Wins The Highest Honor In Mathematics

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Chrissy Clark Education Reporter
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A high school dropout turned Princeton University professor was awarded the highest honor in mathematics at the International Math Union’s 2022 award ceremony.

June Huh, 39, was awarded the Fields Medal, the highest honor in mathematics. The award is referred to as the “Nobel Prize of mathematics.” Huh’s research focuses on geometry, topology, and the combinatorics of algebraic varieties, according to a press release from Princeton.

“June Huh, with his collaborators, has transformed the field of geometric combinatorics,” the press release reads.

Huh’s trajectory to the prestigious award was described in detail in an article published in Quanta Magazine. Huh had no desire to be a mathematician as a kid and felt “indifferent” towards the subject before he dropped out of high school in South Korea altogether, according to the article.

Huh dabbled in poetry after dropping out of high school at age 16. He described himself as someone who could not focus in a classroom setting and preferred to read on his own.

In the interview, Huh recalls a time when his father tried to teach him math out of a workbook. The award-winning mathematician claims he copied the solutions from the back pages instead of figuring the problems out himself.

Huh dropped the idea of becoming a poet as he found writing to be too self-aggrandizing and depressing.

“I wanted to be someone who writes great poetry,” he told Quanta Magazine. “I didn’t want to write great poetry.”

In 2002, Huh enrolled at Seoul National University and majored in astronomy and physics, according to Quanta Magazine. The mathematician described himself as “generally lost” at the beginning of college.

Huh switched his degree to math after a visiting professor from Japan, who previously won the Fields Medal in the 1970s, began mentoring him, according to Princeton’s press release. Huh then joined the University of Michigan as a graduate student in 2014 and joined the Princeton faculty in 2021. (RELATED: Ivy League Vows To Eliminate Loans For Students With Family Income Less Than $125,00)

Huh is the ninth Field Medal recipient from the Princeton faculty.