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Utah Professor Wins Italy’s Top Math Prize

Christopher Hacon, distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Utah

June 16, 2011 – Christopher Hacon, a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Utah, has been awarded the Antonio Feltrinelli Prize in Mathematics, Mechanics and Applications by Italy’s Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, or National Lincean Academy. The award will be presented at the academy in Rome this November.

“I am honored to receive this prize. I am happy that the committee chose to recognize work in algebraic geometry, a subject that I was first introduced to during my undergraduate years in Pisa, Italy,” says Hacon.

The Antonio Feltrinelli Prizes are considered Italy’s highest scientific and cultural honors. Hacon’s prize carries a cash award of 65,000 Euros, or about $93,000.

“We have known for some time that Professor Hacon is a treasure for the mathematics department and the university,” says Pierre Sokolsky, dean of the University of Utah’s College of Science. “It is good to see him recognized as a national treasure for Italy as well. This is a well-deserved honor.”

The Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, literally the National Academy of the Lynx, was founded in 1603 and was named after the cat with keen vision because of the idea that scientists make careful observations. In 1611, astronomer Galileo Galilei was inducted to the prestigious academy, which published his research and supported him during his battle with the Roman Catholic Church.

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 to Italian algebraic geometers in the early 20th century.

A native of Manchester, England, Hacon has lived in Italy and graduated from the University of Pisa with a B.A. degree in mathematics. He immigrated to the United States in 1993, and earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in mathematics at UCLA.

Hacon was a Wylie assistant professor at the University of Utah from 1998 to 2000, and an assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside from 2000 to 2002. He returned to Utah in 2002 and was promoted to distinguished professor in 2010.

Hacon was awarded a prestigious American Mathematical Society Centennial Research Fellowship during the 2006 academic year. In May 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.