A former child prodigy, Terence Tao is one of the most important mathematicians of our time. Born in 1975, Tao was attending university-level calculus classes by the age of nine. Later, he continued his precocious streak by receiving his master's in mathematics when he was 16. By the time he was 24, Tao was not only a member of the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles, but he'd also been granted full tenure, making him the youngest person to ever achieve such a distinction at the school. Today, he continues his research and teaching at UCLA and is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest mathematicians. In 2006, Tao's genius won him the Fields Medal, the highest distinction in mathematics. Since then, the awards and honors have kept coming: the MacArthur Fellowship (often informally called the “Genius Grant”), the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award, the Royal Society’s Royal Medal, the Royal Swedish Academy of Science’s Crafoord Prize, and the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics, among others.
In 1992, Tao won a Postgraduate Fulbright Scholarship to undertake research in mathematics at Princeton University. He was only 16, and it was the first time the Australia-born Tao would be away from home. To help with the transitional period, his father stayed with Tao for the first week of classes to teach his son how to perform such basic tasks as opening a bank account and doing laundry. Later, in an interview with Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW), Tao recalled a defining moment from his first day as a Princeton graduate student, when he stood in the lobby of Fine Hall and stared at the math department’s illustrious faculty directory. “I recognized half the names,” he said. “It was kind of intimidating.” At Princeton, Tao chose to work with Elias Stein, a giant in the field of harmonic analysis – the study of the properties and characteristics of sine waves. Blessed with so many intellectual gifts, Tao coasted academically. In his free time, he joined the Film Club and played foosball, online bridge, and computer games. In 1996, at the age of 21, he received his PhD in Mathematics.
Over the years, Tao has remained connected to his alma mater, regularly returning to campus for special events. To highlight his numerous accomplishments since graduating, PAW featured Tao in a lengthy 2019 article titled, "Mind of a Mathematician." Before that, in 2013, Tao delivered the Minerva Lecture Series at Princeton. Pulling from his world-class expertise, Tao delivered three separate lectures on mathematics, ending with "Universality for Wigner random matrices." The lectures were conveyed over the course of a week, allowing Tao numerous occasions to work with and inspire Princeton faculty and students.