7+ Things You Might Not Know about Mathematician Terence Tao

Terence Tao is a famed Australian-American mathematician who has made many important contributions to the field.
Christopher McFadden
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Terence Tao might just be one of the greatest mathematicians of our time.

His work has garnered him many awards and recognition amongst his peers and math maniacs around the world.

We briefly explore the man's life and highlight some of his main contributions to math throughout his career. 


Who is Terence Tao?

Terence Tao is an Australian-American mathematician best known for his enormous contributions to the field of mathematics.

He is both the Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the Fellow of the Royal Society. He has been interested in math from a very young age. 

His most notable contributions to math include, but are not limited to:

For his work, Tao has collected various awards throughout his career and is also a published author. 

He currently focuses on several branches of mathematics, including geometric combinatorics, harmonic analysis, partial differential equations, algebraic combinatorics, arithmetic combinators, compressed sensing, and analytic number theory.

He currently works at the Department of Mathematics at UCLA and is also a member of the so-called "Analysis Group" at UCLA. He also edits various mathematical journals

What is Terence Tao famous for?

Terence Tao is a very accomplished mathematician whose work is characterized by his high-degree of originality. He also regularly crosses many research boundaries with an innate ability to collaborate with specialists in other fields. 

Terence's main work is on the theory of partial differential equations. These are the principle equations that tend to be used in mathematical physics, among other fields. 

By way of example, the non-linear Schrödinger equation is vital for modeling light transmission in fiber optic cables. Interestingly, despite their widespread real-world application, it is often very hard to prove that such equations have provable solutions or that they have the required properties.

Tao's work, along with his peers' on concepts such as nonlinear equations, established crucial existence theorems. He has also conducted important work on waves that have been applied to gravitational waves, as predicted in Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.

Terence Tao facts gravity
Source: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Terence Tao has also been able to show, along with British mathematician Ben Green, that a set of prime numbers appear to contain arithmetic progressions of any length. 

"For example, 5, 11, 17, 23, 29 is an arithmetic progression of five prime numbers, where successive numbers differ by 6. Standard arguments had indicated that arithmetic progressions in the set of primes might not be very long, so the discovery that they can be arbitrarily long was a profound discovery about the building blocks of arithmetic." - Encyclopedia Britannica

Terence is a prolific mathematician and authored or co-authored over 275 research papers. One of his most notable works is his results on 3-D Navier-Stokes existence and smoothness.

For his work, he has received many important awards, including the Salem Prize and an American Mathematical Society Bocher Memorial Prize.

He is the second-ever ethnic Chinese mathematician to win the International Mathematical Union's Fields medal after Shing-Tung Yau.

He is also the first Australian mathematician to win the medal.

Terence Tao bio
Source: Gert-Martin Greuel/Wikimedia Commons

Where does Terence Tao teach, and what is he working on?

Terence Tao currently works as a Professor at the Department of Mathematics at UCLA. 

"[He works] in a number of mathematical areas, but primarily in harmonic analysis, PDE, geometric combinatorics, arithmetic combinatorics, analytic number theory, compressed sensing, and algebraic combinatorics.  

[He is] part of the Analysis Group at UCLA, and also an editor or associate editor at several mathematical journals." - Terence Tao's biography, UCLA

Where is Terence Tao from?

Terence Tao was born in Adelaide, Australia on the 17th of July 1975. His father, Dr. Billy Tao, worked as a pediatrician and was born in Shanghai, China, and earned his medical degree at the University of Hong Kong in 1969. 

His mother, Grace, was born in Hong Kong and received a first-class honors degree in physics and math from the University of Hong Kong. His parents met at the same university.

Prior to leaving China, his mother worked as a secondary school teacher in math and physics in Hong Kong. In 1972, Terence's parents emigrated to Australia. 

After completing his undergraduate studies in his mid-teens, Terence emigrated to the United States in 1992 to undertake his Ph.D. at Princeton University.

Terence Tao child prodigy
10-year-old Terence with renowned Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős, circa 1985. Source: Tao Estate/Wikimedia Commons

Tao's wife, Laura Tao, has worked as an electrical engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They have one son, William, and a daughter Madeleine, and the family lives in Los Angeles, California. 

Some interesting takeaway facts about Terence Tao

Here are some interesting facts about mathematician Terence Tao.

1. Terence was born on the 17th of July 1975 in Adelaide, Australia. Terence's father, Dr. Billy Tao, and his mother, Grace, lived in Hong Kong before they as a family emigrated to Australia in 1972.  

Terence is the oldest of their three children, including his two brothers, Trevor and Nigel. 

2. When Terence was only two years old, his parents noticed he was very different from other children of his age. By the age of 5, he was able to teach other children how to spell and complete basic addition problems. 

When asked how he knew the things he was teaching, he replied that he learned them from Sesame Street on TV.

3. When Terence was eight years old, he attended Blackwood High School in Adelaide. It was not uncommon to find him, even then, poring over hardback books and mathematics, on subjects like Calculus

4. By the age of 11, Terence was attending classes at Flinders University in Adelaide, along with his normal classes at Blackwood High School. Terence was taught by Professor Garth Gaudry at Flinders.

5. Terence was able to complete his very first research paper by the age of 15. He would later complete his Bachelor's degree with Honors in 1991 and a Master's degree in 1992 at Flinders University.

His Master's thesis was on the "Convolution operators generated by right-monogenic and harmonic kernels."

For his extraordinary skills, he was awarded the University Medal at Flinders University and a Fulbright Postgraduate Scholarship. Both of these helped him win a place to undertake research in the U.S.

6. Terence completed his Ph.D. at the tender age of 21. He soon joined the University of California faculty and by the age of 24, had become a full-time professor at UCLA. 

This made him the youngest person to ever do so. 

7. In 2007, Tao was nominated for the Australian of the Year. He also published his 'Tao's inequality' principle the same year. 


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