Not just about the numbers

Once a high school dropout, Ken Ono pursues a passion for mathematics—and mentorship

By any measure, Ken Ono is an exceptionally accomplished mathematician. His CV runs to 66 pages of publications, presentations, distinguished lectures, leadership roles, awards, grants, and honors. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers bestowed by former President Bill Clinton. A paper he recently coauthored on the Riemann Hypothesis — an unsolved but influential 160-year-old conjecture related to prime numbers — occasioned widespread coverage in the scientific press. He also edits multiple journals and serves as vice president of the American Mathematical Society.

But as he joins the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences faculty this fall as UVA’s new Thomas Jefferson Professor of Mathematics, Ono emphasizes that he wants to be known for more than math.

“I don’t want to be defined by the papers I write on some complicated-sounding mathematics topic,” says Ono. “A professor is supposed to be much more than that. I have benefited from having some great professors at critical points in my life, and I would like to believe that I could do my part in paying that forward.”

“I did my best to be anything my parents didn’t want me to be.”

John Imbrie, chair of the College’s Department of Mathematics, says if there were one word to describe Ken, it would be “engagement.”

“Some may think of mathematicians as sitting in an ivory tower proving theorems,” Imbrie says, “but Ken is the opposite of that.”

Indeed, in addition to the many students he has mentored, the Research Experience for Undergraduates seminars organized, the books written or coauthored, and the committees, panels, and boards served, Ono judges science fairs, appears on public radio science programs, and presents to audiences at international conferences and middle schools alike. He even represented the United States three times as an athlete at the ITU World Cross triathlon — and was a competitive bicycle racer in college.

Read more, from UVA Arts & Sciences

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