Celebrating Exceptional Women During Math and Statistics Awareness Month (2021)

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Meet the Expert: Ruth Charney, PhD

Tricia Hatley

Dr. Ruth Charney is the President of the American Mathematical Society (AMS). She is also the Theodore and Evelyn Berenson Professor of Mathematics at Brandeis University, where she researches geometric group theory.

A past president of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), Charney has served on various AMS committees since 1993, and in 2017 completed a five-year term on the Board of Trustees. She is a fellow of both AWM and AMS.

10 Women to Know in Mathematics: Breaking Barriers One Problem at a Time

For far too long, mathematics has been considered a male domain. Historically, it’s had one of the worst gender disparities among the sciences; in 2015, only 15 percent of tenure track positions were held by women. The bias extends from elementary-school level teaching practices to the editorial boards of mathematics journals. It’s time to balance the equation.

There’s a long history of women breaking barriers in mathematics: from Ada Lovelace, considered the world’s first computer programmer, to Sofia Kovalevskaya, the first woman to receive a PhD in mathematics, to Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to receive the Fields Medal. Most recently, Karen Ulenbeck became the first woman to win the Abel Prize in mathematics. Institutions are finally beginning to take the hint—tenure track hires were up to 30 percent female in 2018—but there’s still a long way to go before the field reaches equality.

Today, countless women are helping bring the future closer by breaking barriers in mathematics. To get a glimpse at what they’re working on and where they’re taking us, read on.

Tai-Danae Bradley, PhD

Dr. Tai-Danae Bradley is a postdoc/resident mathematician at X, The Moonshot Factory, where her research interests lie in the intersection of quantum physics, machine intelligence, and category theory. She earned her PhD in mathematics at the CUNY Graduate Center; her thesis used basic tools from quantum physics to investigate mathematical structure that is both algebraic and statistical.

Despite the purported secrecy of her employer, Bradley has been notably outward-facing in her blog, Math3ma. Founded in 2015, it showcases her transition from undergraduate to graduate mathematics, often expressing extremely complex topics in a way that more mainstream audiences can digest.

Bradley is also the co-author of Topology, a graduate-level textbook that presents basic topology from the modern perspective of category theory. She posts on Twitter at @Math3ma.

Eugenia Cheng, PhD

Dr. Eugenia Cheng is a mathematician, concert pianist, and scientist in residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She earned her PhD in pure mathematics from the University of Cambridge. Cheng’s mathematical research interests involve higher-dimensional category theory and include a guiding ambition to rid the world of math phobia by presenting its points of public relation. She left her academic post at Sheffield to focus on her goal of bringing mathematics to a wider audience.

Cheng is the author of three books: How to Bake Pi, which illustrates the commonalities and mutual referents between baking and math; Beyond Infinity, which explains set theory for a general audience through analogies and anecdotes; and The Art of Logic in an Illogical World, which explores topics like white privilege and police brutality through logical methods. Cheng also writes the Everyday Math column for the Wall Street Journal and posts on Twitter @DrEugeniaCheng.

Hannah Fry, PhD

Dr. Hannah Fry is an Associate Professor in the Mathematics of Cities at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London (UCL), where she earned her PhD in fluid dynamics. Her research involves collaborating with physicists, computer scientists, architects, and geographers to study patterns in human behavior.

In addition to her academic position, Fry is a public figure in conferences, podcasts, and television. She’s also the author of three books, the latest being Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms, which explores the impact of algorithms on people’s lives; it was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction and the Royal Society Book Prize.

In 2018, the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, along with the London Mathematical Society, awarded Fry the Christopher Zeeman Medal for her contributions to the public understanding of the mathematical sciences. She posts on Twitter at @FryRsquared.

Nalini Joshi, PhD

Dr. Nalini Joshi is a Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellow in mathematics and the Chair of Applied Mathematics at the University of Sydney. She earned her PhD from Princeton University; her thesis was entitled The Connection Problem for the First and Second Painlevé Transcendents. Joshi’s research interests lie in non-linear differential and difference equations, with a particular focus on integrable systems such as the Painlevé equations: what distinguishes order from chaos, and how can we identify systems that are integrable and have only ordered solutions?

Joshi has served as the chair of the National Committee for Mathematical Sciences and the president of the Australian Mathematical Society, and vice-president of the International Mathematics Union. In 2016, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia. She posts on Twitter at @monsoon0.

Erica Klarreich, PhD

Dr. Erica Klarreich is a mathematics and science journalist from Berkeley, California. She’s a graduate of the science writing program at UC Santa Cruz, and she earned her PhD in mathematics from Stony Brook University. Klarreich has written for Nature, Scientific American, Quanta Magazine, New Scientist, Wired, and others.

Klarreich’s writing explores how diverse fields such as economics, computer science, medicine, and biology relate to mathematics, and presents complex theoretical ideas in ways that non-mathematical audiences can appreciate. She’s covered one graduate student’s sudden solving of a decades-old mathematical problem, the speed limit of multiplication, and another graduate student’s solving of another fundamental problem.

Klarreich breaks barriers by reporting on others who are out there breaking barriers, quietly. Her work has been reprinted in several volumes of The Best Writing on Mathematics. She posts on Twitter at @EricaKlarreich.

Holly Krieger, PhD

Dr. Holly Krieger is a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Cambridge, where she is also the Corfield Fellow at Murray Edwards College, She earned her PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago; her thesis focused on arithmetic dynamics, studying the relationship between dynamics of one complex variable and the arithmetic geometry of abelian varieties.

After her PhD, Krieger held a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT through the National Science Foundation. In 2019, she was the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s Mahler Lecturer, giving public lectures across Australia. In 2020, she won the London Mathematical Society’s Whitehead Prize for her deep contributions to arithmetic dynamics and other areas. She posts on Twitter at @HollyKrieger.

Evelyn Lamb, PhD

Dr. Evelyn Lamb is a mathematician and freelance math and science writer. After earning her PhD in Teichmüller theory from Rice University, Lamb received a mass media fellowship from the American Mathematical Society and American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AMS-AAAS). Through the fellowship, she began working for Scientific American as a freelance writer and blogger, writing about math and science for a general audience.

Lamb’s blog for Scientific American, entitled The Roots of Unity, ran for 7.5 years and 350 posts, with its final post in June of 2020. In addition to her writing career, Lamb is the co-creator of My Favorite Theorem, a podcast that interviews mathematics professionals about their favorite mathematical result. She posts on Twitter @EvelynJLamb.

Cathy O’Neil, PhD

Dr. Cathy O’Neil is a mathematician, data scientist, and author. She earned her PhD in mathematics from Harvard University, going on to hold research positions at MIT and Barnard College, where she focused on arithmetic algebraic geometry. In 2007, she left academia to work in the finance industry; her experience there led to a reversal of current, and she became active in the Occupy Wall Street Movement and its Alternative Banking Group.

O’Neil founded O’Neil Risk Consulting & Algorithmic Auditing (ORCAA) to help companies and organizations manage and audit their algorithmic risks. She is the author of three books on math and data science; her most recent, Weapons of Math Destruction, won the Mathematical Association of America’s Euler Book Prize. She posts on her blog, Math Babe, and on Twitter at @MathBabeDotOrg.

Emily Riehl, PhD

Emily Riehl is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics at Johns Hopkins University. She completed her undergraduate education at Harvard University, writing her thesis on local class field theory; she completed her master’s at the University of Cambridge and her PhD at the University of Chicago. Much of her work, including her PhD thesis, revolves around model structures, and more recently, the foundations of infinity-categories.

Riehl is the host of n-Category Cafe, a group blog on subjects related to category theory in math, physics, and philosophy. She’s written (or co-written) three books: Categorical Homotopy Theory; Category Theory in Context; and Fat Chance: Probability from 0 to 1. A fourth book, Elements of Infinity-Category Theory, is forthcoming, with an online draft available for preview.

In January 2020, Riehl received the $250,000 President’s Frontier Award, an award that was founded to nurture individuals at Johns Hopkins who are breaking new ground and poised to become leaders in their field. She posts on Twitter at @EmilyRiehl.

Talitha Washington, PhD

Dr. Talitha Washington is a tenured Associate Professor of Mathematics at Howard University and a Program Director at the National Science Foundation (NSF). She earned her PhD from the University of Connecticut; her thesis was titled Mathematical Model of Proteins Acting as On/Off Switches. Washington’s research interests include the applications of differential equations to problems in biology and engineering, as well as the development of nonstandard finite difference schemes to numerically solve dynamical systems.

Washington helped to champion the legacy of Elbert Frank Cox (1895-1969), the first African-American scholar to earn a doctorate in mathematics. Previously, as a Program Director in the NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education, she helped establish the NSF's first Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program, which funded $40,000,000 in awards in 2019.

Washington is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Outstanding Faculty Award from Howard University and the Director’s Award for Superior Accomplishment from the NSF. She posts on Twitter at @doctor_talitha.

Resources for Math and Statistics Awareness Month

Mathematics is a collaborative field, the collective sum of many diverse parts. To listen in on the conversations most relevant to mathematics today, check out some of the resources below.

  • American Mathematical Society (AMS): Founded in 1888, AMS advances research and connects the diverse global mathematical community through publications, meetings and conferences, professional services, advocacy, and awareness programs. They have over 30,000 members.
  • American Statistical Association (ASA): The largest community of statisticians, ASA was founded in 1839, and continues to support excellence in the development, application, and dissemination of statistical science. Their members serve in industry, government, and academia in more than 90 countries.
  • Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM): Founded in 1971 by a small but passionate group of women mathematicians, AWM has grown into a leading society for women in the mathematical sciences. They help influence the mathematics culture so young women entering the field today encounter a more nurturing environment, and have played a critical role in increasing the presence and visibility of women in the mathematical sciences.
  • Mathematical Association of America (MAA): Open to all who are interested in the mathematical sciences, MAA is the world’s largest community of mathematicians, students, and math enthusiasts. Through outreach, programs, meetings, competitions, and publications, MAA works towards a society that values the power and beauty of mathematics, and fully realizes its potential to promote human flourishing.
  • Mathematical Sciences Institutes Diversity Initiative (MSIDI): Funded by the National Science Foundation, MSIDI is a collaboration to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in the mathematical sciences, including women, underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities.
  • National Association of Mathematicians (NAM): The mission and purpose of NAM is to promote excellence in the mathematical sciences, and promote the mathematical development of all underrepresented minorities.
  • Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM): Through publications, research, and community, SIAM builds cooperation between mathematics and the worlds of science and technology. They have over 14,500 members from more than 100 countries.