It was a puzzle that mathematicians the world over couldn’t solve for more than 50 years, but it took a mathematician from the small Oxford County town of Greenwood less than a week to crack it, the Boston Globe reported.
Lisa Piccirillo won international acclaim for her solving of the Conway knot problem, one of the enigmas of an aspect of theoretical mathematics called topology, the study of properties that are preserved through deformations, twistings, and stretchings of objects when describing the space-time structure of the universe.
Then a graduate student from the University of Texas, Piccirillo devised a proof in 2018 that appeared in Annals of Mathematics in February, according to quantamagazine.org. The paper helped her to get hired as an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on July 1, only 14 months after she finished her doctorate, quantamagazine.org reported.
Growing up in Greenwood, where her mother taught middle school math, the 29-year-old Piccirillo was an excellent student but didn’t show signs of becoming a world-class mathematician until she started studying at Boston College in 2009, the Globe reported.
Since beginning work at MIT, where Piccirillo teaches undergrads and conducts research, she finds that her life has not changed too much. But the rush of having achieved so much is tempered by the inevitable return to earth that comes with the nature of such fleeting success.
She told the Globe: “I’m having to relearn how to be OK with the fact that most of the time I’m failing to prove really simple stuff when I’m feeling the weight of these expectations.”