Ph.D. Candidate in Immunology Isaac Chiu, Harvard Medical School — and son of Shing-Tung Yau — responds to the New Yorker article

Oct. 16, 2006

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing a response to the article "Manifold Destiny" in the New Yorker magazine. As the son of Shing-Tung Yau, I felt compelled to write this letter to help correct the utterly biased and inaccurate representation of him given in the article.

I would like to speak about my father from a personal perspective. My father's influence on me has been enormous; I am a graduate student in biology today because of him. I consider him to be my hero both as a researcher and as a moral individual. He has exposed me to many intellectual subjects, and most importantly, taught me to truly enjoy what I pursue. This is what I see in my father: his love for mathematics is pure, and not for the glory it can bring him. He has supported my scientific love in the best way possible, introducing me to exceptional scientists and exhorting me to read the scientific literature. Moreover, he taught me to be thorough in my research. Although experimental work is not easy, he has been a constant encouragement to me and his own determined work ethic has inspired me to do the same. I can only hope to follow in his footsteps.

I can say that my father has lived his life with the highest ethical standards. A motto he instilled in me is to never take what you did not earn. Whether it is reminding me to give due credit to fellow scientists or giving my full effort in the laboratory, he always emphasizes the importance of working for your achievements. Like any father, he has taught me many basic moral principles, and I can testify that he is a person who teaches by example. In relation to other people, he is unselfish, going out of his way to help students and friends.

My father's generosity is most evident in his teaching. I have met quite a few of his students over the years, at his office and in our home. I believe his approachable and caring attitude has established him as an excellent mentor to all his students. He spends a significant portion of his time with them, and supports each student as fully as any professor could. Numerous other letters from students and colleagues attest to this. In terms of mathematics, I know that my father is fully interested in the advancement of young students in basic research. This is evidenced by the innumerable students who over the years have benefited from my father's training and have now become world-class mathematicians.

My father is passionate about China, and is devoted to its improvement in basic research. Although a mathematician, my father also has a love for Chinese history, culture and literature. In fact, he reads poetry avidly and has even composed poems himself. Recently he wrote a comparative essay on the beauty in mathematics and the beauty in Chinese poetry. After our family spent a year in Taiwan, my father enthusiastically taught my brother and I Chinese language and history every week for several years. In college, I consulted my father many times when I was taking classes on Confucian ethics and Chinese literature. In many aspects, my father possesses a deep love for China and this has carried over into a real interest in the betterment of mathematics in China.

In China, my father has held round-table discussions with university students and given talks to high school students to inspire them to achieve their highest. I hope these young people can view him as the role model he has been to me. Scientists from China that I personally know and many others have talked about their appreciation for the critical voice my father has given to the benefit of Chinese academics.

In the past few months, my father has been genuinely excited about the Poincare conjecture. He has spoken about it to us in our family conversations, but has never ever claimed credit for it. Furthermore, I never heard him say anything negative about Mr. Perelman. He was pleased for Professors Cao and Zhu and hoped their work would encourage young mathematicians in China. His excitement was not for the prospect of personal gain, but for the field of mathematics.

I am shocked by how the article twisted my father's dedication to teaching and to the advancement of mathematics into a play for power. He has received many honors, and I am proud of him for that. But he is not a man who strives for those things. He is a true mathematician and a noble person, as any of our family or friends can testify.


Isaac Chiu
Ph.D. Candidate in Immunology
Harvard Medical School