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MacArthur Foundation names UNH fellow

By Justin Williams, News Editor

For University of New Hampshire students, walking around Kingsbury Hall is the ultimate test on how well they can navigate themselves around an academic building. It is no secret that Kingsbury can feel like a maze sometimes. However, if you can make it to the north wing on the third floor, you might be able to find the office of Professor Yitang “Tom” Zhang, who is much more than an educator.

Zhang is a professor of mathematics, but as his resume shows, teaching college students is only part of his job.

Recently, he was named a 2014 MacArthur Fellow, which means that he is one of 21 “exceptionally creative individuals with a track record of achievement and the potential for significant contributions in the future,” according to a press release from the MacArthur Foundation website.

Zhang was named a MacArthur Fellow for proving what is known as the twin prime conjecture. 

“There are many, infinitely many pairs of primes, so the gap should be two, but I can prove it is less than a certain number, less than, say, 70 million,” Zhang said. 

Zhang worked for four years to prove this — work that he said was not easy. Nonetheless, Zhang would not have had it any other way. 

“I love the challenging problems,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe this is the only reason I can skive; I love the challenge.” 

Math is something Zhang has been passionate about since he was a young boy in China. In fact, Zhang said he has been good at math since he was just 9 years old. When he was 17, he decided he wanted to dedicate his life to math.   

“I [decided] I want to be [an] excellent mathematician; that’s my desire,” Zhang said. “I just decided to dedicate it to some important and difficult math problems.”

Zhang came to the United States in 1985 to earn his Ph.D. He attended Purdue University and received the degree in 1992. He came to UNH in 1999, and was a lecturer up until this year when he became a professor. Zhang wanted to be a professor because it gave him the chance to do what he likes: working with math.  Zhang has truly dedicated his life to math. When he is not teaching, he spends his time doing research and thinking. Even though he was named a MacArthur Fellow — which Zhang mentioned was one of the biggest achievements he has had in his career — he still spends his free time researching.

Zhang said that his plans for the future have not changed even after being named a MacArthur Fellow. He still plans on doing the same research.

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