In his new memoir, famous mathematician Shing-Tung Yau tells about his journey from poverty to fame. His love for mathematics shines through as he traces the history of how he came to the United States after living in China and Hong Kong. The Shape of a Life also goes into his research work in geometry which earned him top awards.
Yau and his family fled from China when he was still an infant in 1949. They ended up in British-ruled Hong Kong. Through a mistranslation while processing paperwork for his new elementary school, the family’s name was translated from Chiu to Yau. They did not speak English at the time, and the name stuck ever since. The name change didn’t seem significant to the family at the time, but many years later, that new name was going to be engraved in physics and mathematics records. Today, thanks to Yau’s research work, the Calabi-Yau manifolds is the name given to geometric shapes that play an important role in the understanding of string theory.
Yau wrote The Shape of a Life together with Steve Nadis, who is a science writer. It covers his childhood days living in poverty when his family lived in Hong Kong. The family suffered a major loss when Yau was 14. He had to deal with losing his father, and from then on, the family’s situation only got worse. There are many happy and sad references to this time in his life. Being amazed by geometric proofs when he was in middle school was the beginning of his love and work in this important field.
Rising to Prominence
Many things changed in Yau’s life to bring him to who he is today. Having won the Fields Medal, this Chinese-American mathematician is among the big names in mathematics today. This award is often called the Nobel Prize of mathematics, and this speaks to his significant contributions in geometry.