Chern, Shiing-Shen

Chern, Shiing-Shen,

1911–2004, Chinese-American mathematician, b. Kashing (now Jiaxing), China, D.Sc. Hamburg, 1936. While undertaking graduate studies in China (1932–34), Chern developed what became a lifelong interest in differential geometrydifferential geometry,
branch of geometry in which the concepts of the calculus are applied to curves, surfaces, and other geometric entities. The approach in classical differential geometry involves the use of coordinate geometry (see analytic geometry; Cartesian coordinates),
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. Pioneered in the 19th cent. by Carl Friedrich GaussGauss, Carl Friedrich
, born Johann Friederich Carl Gauss, 1777–1855, German mathematician, physicist, and astronomer. Gauss was educated at the Caroline College, Brunswick, and the Univ.
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 in his studies of curves and surfaces, differential geometry received little attention among mathematicians until the 1930s and 40s, but Chern transformed this dormant branch of mathematics into a vibrant area of study. Studying the curvature of surfaces in spaces with more than three dimensions, he devised mathematical quantities that he called characteristic classes—now known as Chern classes—that differentiated different types of surfaces. The fields on which he had the greatest impact, global differential geometry and complex algebraic geometry, are fundamental to many areas of mathematics and theoretical physics, and his work at the foundation of gauge theory and string theorystring theory,
description of elementary particles based on one-dimensional curves, or "strings," instead of point particles. Superstring theory, which is string theory that contains a kind of symmetry known as supersymmetry, has been seen by some physicists as a way of unifying
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, among the most important developments of modern theoretical physics.