The Chern Lectures

The Shiing-Shen Chern Chair in Mathematics was established by a generous donation by Dr. Robert G. Uomini, a 1976 graduate from UC Berkeley, and Ms. Louise B. Bidwell in honor of one of the 20th century's greatest geometers, Shiing-Shen Chern, Professor Emeritus, UC Berkeley. Funds from the endowment are used to support one or more distinguished visiting mathematicians each year as well as teaching and research activities related to the visitors. The visitors are referred to as The Shiing-Shen Chern Visiting Professors.

The 2018-2019 Chern Lectures will be given by Assaf Naor of Princeton University, on March 12, 13, 14 and 15, 2019. The title of the series is "Quantitative embeddability, obstructions, and applications".

Abstract of the series:
Representing a metric space X as a subset of another metric space Y, while preserving up to a controlled error certain geometric features of X, is a powerful paradigm in metric geometry, with a wide variety of decisive applications. This endeavor teaches us about X if certain questions have already been answered about Y, and it also allows us to understand the geometry of Y through those spaces X that can or cannot be faithfully embedded into it. While metric embeddings have been studied extensively from multifaceted perspectives for almost a century, many of the most basic questions remain open. The purpose of these lectures is to give examples of recent progress, often relying on unexpected connections between, and applications to, seemingly disparate mathematical disciplines. The organizing principle that underlies much of the advances over the past four decades is the Ribe program, which is a network of conjectures and analogies about the quest to reveal, and use, a hidden dictionary for translating between linear and nonlinear phenomena. While aspects of this theme will be dispersed throughout these lectures, the talks will not rely on each other and could be understood independently. Our goal is to present self-contained examples of modern developments, and to indicate the rich web of mysteries that remain to be understood. We will not rely on any prerequisites beyond an undergraduate degree in mathematics, and all of the relevant background will be introduced and explained.


Lecture 1: The (in)compatibility of 3 and 5 dimensional Heisenberg geometry with Lebesgue spaces
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm, Simons Institute Auditorium, Calvin Lab

We will discuss the longstanding bi-Lipschitz embedding problem in $\mathbb R^k$, and how over the years it became intertwined with the embeddability properties of the Heisenberg groups into $L_p(\mu)$ spaces. We will explain a recent completion of this project, which exhibits unexpected twists, decisive applications to longstanding open questions in algorithms and metric geometry, and connections to subtle structural issues in analysis.


Lecture 2: Extension, discretization, and quantitative differentiation
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm, Simons Institute Auditorium, Calvin Lab

We will discuss questions about the relation between discrete phenomena and their continuous counterparts. This relates to extension of partially defined functions, Bourgain’s work on discretization and almost extension for a quantitative version of Ribe’s rigidity theorem, and differentiation questions that are well understood as infinitesimal phenomena but their macroscopic counterparts remain basic mysteries.


Lecture 3: An average John theorem (Math Department Colloquium)
Thursday, March 14, 2019
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm, Room 60, Evans Hall

We will prove a sharp average-case variant of a classical embedding theorem of John through the theory of nonlinear spectral gaps. We will use this theorem to provide a new answer to questions of Johnson and Lindenstrauss (1983) and Bourgain (1985) on metric dimension reduction, and explain how it leads to unexpected algorithms for approximate nearest neighbor search.


Lecture 4: Nonpositive curvature is not coarsely universal
Friday, March 15, 2019
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm, Simons Institute Auditorium, Calvin Lab

We will discuss coarse embeddings into Alexandrov spaces of nonpositive or nonnegative curvature. By studying subtle invariants that initially arose within the Ribe program and discretization questions, we will answer a question of Gromov (1993) about the coarse universality of Hadamard spaces. Connections to important questions such as the existence of super-expanders will be explained.


Biography of Speaker:

Assaf Naor obtained his B.Sc. (1996), M.Sc. (1998) and Ph.D. (2002) from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. From 2002 through 2006 he was a member of the Theory Group of Microsoft Research. From 2006 to 2014 he was a professor at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences of New York University. Since 2014 he is a professor at the Department of Mathematics of Princeton University. He is the director of the Algorithms and Geometry (A&G) Think Tank at the headquarters of the Simons Foundation in NYC.



Professor Chern (1911-2004) is widely regarded as the greatest geometer of his generation. For more than six decades, he was a leader in the field of differential geometry and made significant contributions to such diverse areas as the geometry of fibre bundles, complex geometry, web geometry, integral geometry, Nevalinna theory, and the classical theory of submanifolds in euclidean space. Professor Chern completed his doctorate in 1936 in Hamburg. During his stay at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton in 1943-1945, he did his ground-breaking work on characteristic classes and fibre bundles. When he returned to China in 1946, he set himself the task of introducing modern mathematics to China and succeeded in training a new generation of Chinese mathematicians. Professor Chern taught at the University of Chicago from 1949 to 1960, when he came to Berkeley. He was a co-founder of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley. He retired in 1979.

Additional biographical information can be found at:


Past Chern Visiting Professors

1996 Sir Michael Atiyah
1997 Richard Stanley
1998 Friedrich Hirzebruch
1999 Michael Artin
        Yuri Manin
2000 Don Zagier
2001 Joseph Bernstein
        Peter Lax
        Bertram Kostant
2005 Terence Tao
2007 Vladimir Igorevich Arnold
2008 Dennis Sullivan
2009 Richard Taylor
2010 Peter S. Ozsvath
2011 Andrei Okounkov
2012 Jean Bourgain
2013 (Spring) Nigel Hitchin
2013 (Fall) Stanislav Smirnov
2014 Ngô Bảo Châu
2015-16 Alex Eskin
2016-17 Sergiu Klainerman
2017-18 Martin Hairer