Prof. Kao demonstrates a passion for solving mathematical problems

Prof. Kao demonstrating how mathematics can be found in everyday life at the Ath.

To illustrate her research, Mathematics Professor Chiu-Yen Kao blew into a range of bottles to demonstrate how their different shapes generated a variety of pitches.

Since she was a child, Prof. Chiu-Yen Kao has always liked puzzles. 

And, when she was installed as the Keck Foundation Professor of Applied Math and Computer Science on Nov. 10, the applied mathematician shared a maze for the audience to solve.

To the delight of her colleagues and students gathered at the Athenaeum, Kao — who specializes in shape optimization, image segmentation, and mathematical biology— punctuated her acceptance speech with engaging humor. To illustrate her research, she shared a recent experiment involving a Christmas ornament, and blew on a range of bottles to demonstrate how their different shapes generate a variety of pitches.

Kao grew up in Taipei above her family’s bakery, where she said she worked as a “human cash register” and was tasked with cracking “so many eggs” that now she’s unfazed by heavy and tedious calculations.

Kao, who chairs the Mathematical Sciences department at CMC,  arrived at the College in 2011. Over the years, she has taught a variety of courses in applied mathematics, both at the undergraduate level and —through CGU— at the graduate level.

Her research comprises more than 80 publications, and 160 seminar and conference presentations, and she’s been honored with an Alfred P. Sloan Research fellowship and the IEEE Signal Processing Society’s award for best paper.

Over the past 10 years, Kao has organized the Applied Mathematics seminar, a weekly series featuring speakers from around the world. In addition, she co-chaired the CCMS Mathematics Colloquium for a two-year term.

Kao’s academic journey began at the National Taiwan University where she earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a minor in physics, and eventually, a master's degree in applied mechanics. Kao earned her PhD from UCLA in mathematics.

Overall, Kao shared, she views “our world through mathematics” and her hope was to encourage her audience to do the same

Anne Bergman


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