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Simons Foundation Honors U of Utah Math Professor

University of Utah mathematician Chris Hacon has been named a Simons Foundation investigator. The award is potentially worth more than $1 million.

July 23, 2012 – Christopher Hacon, a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Utah, has been selected as a Simons Foundation Investigator in this inaugural year of the program.

“I am thrilled to have been appointed as a Simons Investigator,” says Hacon. “This is a great recognition of my research program and its future potential. I plan to use these funds mainly to support graduate students, postdocs and visiting experts in algebraic geometry.”

The Simons Investigator appointment is a five-year award with an anticipated renewal for five years, contingent on a formal review. Hacon will receive $100,000 per year, while each year the Department of Mathematics and the university will receive $10,000 and $22,000, respectively. Thus, the total could reach $1.32 million.

“Hacon’s award as a Simons Investigator recognizes his groundbreaking research in algebraic geometry, and distinguishes him as one of the leading mathematicians worldwide,” says Peter Trapa, chair of the University of Utah’s Department of Mathematics.  “Hacon is a tremendous asset to the University of Utah.”

Hacon studies algebraic geometry. He is particularly interested in two topics:

  • The classification of higher-dimensional “complex projective varieties,” which are geometric objects that are described by one or more polynomial equations in many variables, and that typically exist in more than three dimensions. In contrast, a simple geometric object like a sphere can be described by just one polynomial equation in three variables, and therefore is an object in three-dimensional space.
  • Questions arising from “the minimal model program,” which is an effort to understand the properties of complex projective varieties. This is a very active field of research with origins that date back to the Italian algebraic geometers at the beginning of the 20th century, such as Federigo Enriques and Guido Castelnuovo. A few years ago, Hacon and his collaborators stunned the mathematical world by resolving large parts of the minimal model program, thus completing the century-long quest to understand higher dimensional surfaces.

In 2007, Hacon was among five mathematicians honored with a Clay Research Award, given by the Clay Mathematics Institute for “major breakthroughs in mathematics research.” Hacon shared the award with James McKernan, a long-time collaborator and former University of Utah postdoctoral researcher who now works at MIT. Hacon and McKernan also received the 2009 American Mathematical Society’s Frank Nelson Cole Prize in Algebra for their groundbreaking work on the minimal model program in algebraic geometry. In 2011, Hacon received the Antonio Feltrinelli Prize in Mathematics, Mechanics and Applications, Italy’s most distinguished prize for mathematics.  This prize was awarded by the National Lincean Academy, which was founded in 1603 and included Galileo Galilei among its members.