Emmy Noether Lectures

1998 Lecturer: Dusa McDuff

Symplectic Structures — A New Approach to Geometry

Dusa McDuff was born in 1945 in London and grew up in Edinburgh. Her father was Professor of Animal Genetics at the university, and her mother was an architect in the Scottish Development Office. She received her BSc from the University of Edinburgh in 1967 and then went to Cambridge, England, where she got a PhD in 1971. She held a research fellowship in Cambridge from 1970 to 1972 and then took up lecturerships at the Universities of York (till 1976) and Warwick. During this time she also spent a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and two semesters at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. She moved to SUNY at Stony Brook in 1978 and has remained there ever since. She was promoted to Full Professor in 1984.
McDuff’s thesis was in functional analysis, but while still a graduate student she visited Moscow for 6 months and studied with I.M. Gelfand. It was under his influence that she started to work in topology, which has remained her primary interest ever since. Starting in 1972, she worked with Graeme Segal on classifying spaces for foliations, exploring ways to construct interesting spaces by pulling apart groups of diffeomorphisms. This led her to work with diffeomorphisms that preserve an additional geometric structure, such as a volume element or symplectic form. Just as she became interested in symplectic geometry in 1983, new ideas were developed that made it possible to understand symplectic structures in a much deeper way. Since then she has worked almost exclusively in this field.
In her Noether lecture, McDuff will describe this new understanding of symplectic structures, and will discuss some of the ways in which it is relevant to other fields in mathematics.
McDuff has published over 50 research papers, including some 30 in symplectic geometry. Recently she has been working in collaboration, notably with Francois Lalonde and Dietmar Salamon. She has written two monographs with Salamon on different aspects of symplectic geometry. She was awarded the first Ruth Lyttle Satter prize in 1991 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1994 and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995. She has given many lectures on symplectic geometry, in particular an AMS Invited Address at the Winter meeting in Atlanta (1988), the first Progress in Mathematics lecture at the AMS Summer meeting in Boulder 1989, an Invited Address at the Kyoto ICM 1990, and a Plenary Address at the 2nd European Congress in Budapest (1996). She was Chair of the Mathematics Department at Stony Brook from 1991-93 and Chair of the Scientific Advisory Council of MSRI, Berkeley, 1993-96. McDuff has served on many other committees, both in the university and in the wider mathematical community. She is very interested in encouraging women in mathematics, and recently helped to institute a British Women’s Mathematics Day. She has also recently developed some new undergraduate courses that try to foster mathematical creativity.
McDuff’s main interests besides mathematics are reading, playing the cello, gardening, walking, and talking to friends. She has two children, a daughter now living in London and a teenage son, and is married to John Milnor.