In awarding Yale’s George Daniel Mostow its 2013 Wolf Foundation Prize in mathematics — one of the field’s premier global awards — the foundation offered this crisp assessment: “Few mathematicians,” it said, “can compete with the breadth, depth, and originality of his works.”
Here Mostow, an emeritus professor since 1998, talks about the English teacher who led him to a life in math, the pleasure of family, high-definition opera, and the Nth dimension — as well as the “eureka!” moment at a New Haven stoplight that secured him a place in the history of geometry.
When did it dawn on you that you wanted to be a professional mathematician?
In high school, mathematics was my favorite subject. I especially enjoyed challenging problems. But I did not know that mathematics was a profession. I am indebted to my high school English teacher who, in my senior year, called me up to his desk to ask about my career plans, and told me that his brother was a mathematician. I decided then and there that mathematics was for me. (more…)