Scientific Biography

I earned my B.A. from UCLA in 1978, and my Ph.D. from Princeton in 1982. Indiana University hired me in 1983, after a post-doctoral year at MSRI in Berkeley, CA. I've been extremely fortunate to learn from some superb teachers.

My Real Analysis course at UCLA was a major turning point in my life.  The instructor was unknown to me when I registered for the course -- a young visiting assistant professor listed in the schedule of classes as “Yau, S.T.”.  I had no inkling that Yau was at that very time doing brilliant work in geometry that would earn him a Fields medal within a few years. But I found his Analysis lectures so inspiring, and the material so compelling, that I put my heart and soul into his course—and soon decided to pursue mathematics. I suspect my admission to Princeton—a fabulous opportunity and a huge break for me—owed much to Yau’s recommendation letter.

In 1979–80, my second year of grad school, Princeton’s Institute For Advanced Study hosted a special year in Differential Geometry.  The organizer: S.T. Yau.  That year exposed me to a lot of exciting geometry, and I was lucky enough to find a superb new mentor: Leon Simon, and meet others who I'd learn much from too: Rick Schoen and Karen Uhlenbeck, for instance.

My Ph.D. advisor was Fred Almgren (1933–1997).  Fred was a unique geometric analyst, with a deep, intuitive way of understanding mathematics.  You wouldn't know it from his papers, which are exasperatingly turgid.  But in personal conversations with his students, Fred always swept quickly past technical details to reveal the essential ideas—often shedding bright light on difficult material.  Though I grew to dislike the dissertation path Fred insisted I follow (and I ditched it as soon as the ink on my dissertation was dry) I learned a great deal from him. I owe Fred much for my initial formation as a mathematician.

I also want to mention Brian White, who graduated a year ahead of me at Princeton: he taught me as much as any of my official teachers.

My first job was a 1-year postdoc at MSRI in Berkeley. It was MSRI's opening year, and very exciting: a special year on elliptic methods in geometry. I worked hard, but without much progress for months. When it came time to apply for jobs, I had little to show for myself, the job market was bad, and my prospects were depressing at best. 

Then, in March of 1983, jobless and thinking about giving up on a career in academia, I got two lucky breaks. First, Indiana University took a major risk and offered me a tenure-track job. At the time of my interview in Bloomington, I was peddling pretty modest stuff, but right afterwards, in a grad course Rick Schoen gave on minimal surfaces, something Rick said rang a bell. I couldn’t wait to get back to my office, and within a couple hours, I knew I was onto something good, Over the next few days, I exposed the clear outlines of a "Gauss Map" theorem for area-minimizing hypersurfaces. It won serious interest from the experts, and suddenly I was running with the pack.

Much has happened since then, but I will let my publication list tell the rest of the story.  Aside from leaves and sabbaticals in Canberra, San Diego, Paris, Palo Alto and Haifa, I have remained in Bloomington. I feel very grateful to Indiana University and its Math Department for supporting me over the years.