David Mumford receives National Medal of Science

Retired Brown University mathematics professor David Mumford is among 10 scientists to receive the 2010 National Medal of Science, which is granted each year by the U.S. National Science Foundation. He will receive the award later this year in a ceremony at the White House in Washington. Mumford joins a list renowned scholars that includes numerous Nobel laureates, among them James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA structure.

Although Mumford originally intended to pursue a career in physics, he fell in love with mathematics during his undergraduate years. “[When] I got to quantum field theory, … it was really too complicated for me. … Math is simple — it’s nice and straightforward.’

At Harvard University, Mumford studied algebraic geometry and related topics for about 20 years, but then redirected his research to applied math, including topics such as computer vision. To better pursue these interests, in 1996 Mumford transferred to Brown University in the Applied Mathematics department.

Mumford says that math has always been his principal passion: “The charm of math is that you’re completely in control. If you can figure out the logic of it, you can discover these things … You don’t have to get Ferdinand and Isabella to give you a boat to sail across the ocean.”

Some additional details are in [Qunoj2010], from which portions of the above were excerpted.


  1. [Qunoj] Lindor Qunoj, “National Science Foundation honors professor for math work,” Brown Daily Herald, 18 Oct 2010, available at Online article.

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