Math whiz wins Humboldt fellowship to study in Germany

Gábor Lukács, who, at 16, was York’s youngest PhD student ever when he arrived in 1999, defends his mathematics dissertation this month, then heads to Bremen University in Germany on a one-year Humboldt Research Fellowship.

“This is going to be a great opportunity for me to be closer to my family and friends in Hungary and friends in Israel, but it is also going to be excellent from an academic point of view,” says the Hungarian-born Lukács, who grew up in Israel.

At Bremen, known as the science centre of northwest Germany, the mathematical whiz will continue to work on category theory and its applications in topological algebra. The fellowship gives the trilingual Lukács (he speaks English, Hebrew and Hungarian) a monthly stipend of 2,100 euros ($3,228 Cdn) for a year and pays for conference expenses. If he returned to York, it would be to accept an offer of a tenure-track position.

Born in Hungary, Lukács moved to Israel when he was eight. From the prodigious age of four, he began playing arithmetic games with his father. By 11, he had decided to be a mathematician and professor. At 12, he began his undergraduate studies in pure mathematics at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology; and at 15, his master’s. At 16, Lukacs enrolled in a doctoral program at York hoping to study under Yuri Medvedev, who unfortunately for young Lukács had left York before his admirer arrived. A year later he declined a Yale University scholarship to remain at York and continue working under the supervision of mathematics Prof. Walter Tholen. Scholarships, including major ones from York, have supported him every step of the way. 

At York, he has also taught calculus to introductory and advanced level undergraduates, been a course director and tutored students with difficulties in their mathematics and statistics courses.

While Lukács finds intellectual sustenance and “escape” in mathematics, he also has a passion for Baroque music. “When I do math, normally I listen to classical music.” He has taught himself to play piano, harpsichord and organ. And when in Hungary, he indulges in wilderness camping, canoeing up his beloved Duna (the Danube River).

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation sponsors about 500 post-docs from outside Germany to carry on their research as guests at German universities. Named after a 19th-century naturalist, world traveller and all-round scholar, the non-profit foundation was first established in 1860 and revived in 1953 to promote international research cooperation. The foundation also fosters an international network of the 20,000 Humboldt fellows from the 125 countries it has sponsored so far.