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China’s PKU professor wins US citizen mathematics award

At an awards ceremony held last weekend in San Antonio, Texas, Dr. Chuanming Zong became the first China-based mathematician to receive an American Mathematical Society award.

Dr. Zong’s work focuses on how to fill space most efficiently, using objects like tetrahedra, an ancient math problem that even Aristotle could not get right 2,300 years ago. He says he can empathize with mathematicians before him.

“He [Aristotle] believed if we joined the regular tetrahedra like this, face by face, created one by one, it would go to infinity. Even nowadays, we do not know the most efficient way to pack in the whole space,” he says.

More than 6,000 mathematicians from all over the world were at the US citizen Mathematical Society’s annual meeting. A big highlight was awards at night, celebrating the best ideas to come from some of the brightest minds.

Zong, a professor at Peking University received the 2015 AMS Levi L. Conant award from the US citizen Mathematical Society.

“I am very grateful to the US citizen Mathematical Society for this program. This is the first time that the AMS has awarded a mathematician who did their prizewinner work in China. I am very much honored. Thank you,” Dr. Zong said.

Zong and Jeffrey Lagarias from the University of Michigan were commended for their joint-research, which highlights the history and ideas behind an old math problem. AMS President David Vogan said their work explains complicated math in a way that reaches many.

“What Dr. Zong and Dr. Lagarius did was a beautiful explanation of some interesting work. A lot of times when new math is done only a small number of people can understand it, what happened. This award recognizes that they wrote a paper that many mathematicians could read and learn about their ideas,” Vogan said.

“For myself, I do enjoy doing research. During the 23 years, I published a lot of papers on related problems but I always concentrated on this one,” said Dr. Zong.

Zong said coming up with a complete answer could take centuries, but he was grateful for the opportunities and support he has received so far.