Joan and Joseph Birman Research Prize 2017


The 2017 Joan & Joseph Birman Research Prize in Topology and Geometry is awarded to Emmy Murphy for major breakthroughs in symplectic geometry.

Murphy has developed new techniques for the study of symplectic and contact structures on manifolds, uncovering a startling degree of flexibility in a branch of geometry that is ordinarily distinguished by rigidity. As a result, some geometric problems can now be reduced to homotopy theory; for example Murphy’s methods have yielded answers to long-standing questions concerning the existence of contact structures on high-dimensional manifolds. She has shown great creativity in the delicate work of inventing powerful new h-principle techniques. She has also masterfully combined these new tools with other tools, such as the method of pseudo-holomorphic curves, to explore the boundary between flexibility and rigidity.

Murphy is a highly original thinker, and leading geometers will not be surprised if she goes on to make breakthroughs in very different areas of mathematics.


I am very honored to be a recipient of the Joan & Joseph Birman Prize. My work would never have been possible without my many mentors, particularly Chris Herald, Alex Kumjian, Tom Mrowka, and Paul Seidel. I would also like to thank my collaborators for stimulating and inspiring ideas, particularly Strom Borman, Roger Casals, Baptiste Chantraine, Mike Freedman, and Fran Presas. Yasha Eliashberg deserves special mention, as a wonderful advisor, collaborator, and friend. I’d like to thank Joan and Joseph Birman for being so generous and supportive of the women in mathematics community. Joan is certainly an inspiration to me.

There are many people in mathematics who deserve my warmest thanks, but cannot be listed here. And of course, I’d like to thank my family and friends for their love and support.

Finally, I’m grateful to the selection committee for the recognition of my work, and the kind words. I have always had an appreciation for highly visual and geometric questions, and I’m very happy to find places where this kind of thinking is useful. Symplectic and contact geometry, though very fashionable, are still very young fields. And though we’ve developed a lot of machinery in recent years, there are still many basic questions we don’t know the answer to, and I believe many deep theorems can still be proven from first principles. I’m very excited to see where the field will go in upcoming years.