Monday, June 23, 2008

Where is she now? Moon Duchin

As part of their ongoing series on Westinghouse (now Intel) Science Talent Search finalists, Scientific American profiles mathematician Moon Duchin, who was a finalist in 1993. Both of Duchin's parents loved numbers, and she knew she wanted to be a mathematician from the tender age of 7. She not only enjoyed math, but excelled at it. She completed all the math classes her high school had to offer her freshman year, and, the summer before her senior year she had the opportunity to work with Harvard number theorist Noam Elkies. Elkies suggested she do some work on lattice geometry, and the resulting paper was entered into the Science Talent Search.

But mathematics wasn't her only interest:

Duchin went to Harvard to study math, but even as she pursued a fairly traditional track for a promising young mathematician, she was becoming suspicious of the traditional great "Men of Mathematics" (to quote a famous book title) concept. "Does it hinge on specific people or is it inevitable it will come out that way?" she asks. The Great Man model of a genius working alone in his garret "started to seem like it was obscuring some of the important community aspects of mathematics, and like it was controlling who would even think to enter the field," she says. Duchin stuck it out because of her 7-year-old dream and "adolescent stubbornness," but "it wasn't always easy to see my way through. Meanwhile, I'd picked up an enduring interest in cultural practices and philosophical issues in science."

So at Harvard, Duchin wound up double majoring in math and women's studies. She did a mathematics research thesis, and also one for the women's studies department looking at "Why the notion of genius is so attractive with thinking about math and how it functions, and what it does to math as a field," she says. "Lots of people think this is a non-social field—would math come out differently in a society with a different social organization?" While she's not trying to debunk the existence of genius ("there really are people you meet in math and you learn about who just synthesize things in ways that other people don't have access to with any investment of time"), the Great Man theory "definitely stilts the narrative. A real intellectual history is harder to do but it illuminates the math very differently."
She completed her PhD in mathematics at the University of Chicago, where she also taught a class in gender studies. Currently she is a post-doc at UC Davis, and is due to start a second postdoc at the University of Michigan this fall. She "ultimately hopes to do cross-disciplinary teaching and research incorporating math and her interest in the humanities."
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Anonymous said...

Wow, just look at where she is. Yep, she is one of a kind. I'm only one of many who sincerely wishes her the best and continued success.
If your reading this, I hope your smiling. Take care.

Anonymous said...

Just an update:

Moon Duchin is a woman who is a mathematical genius as are others. She is only at the beginnings of what looks to be a very promising career. Already she has papers appearing in world famous journals: Inventiones Mathematicae and Geometric and Functional Analysis. One has every expectation that she will become a full professor at one of the top universities in the country.