American Mathematical Society welcomes UCR professor as fellow

Author: Jules Bernstein
November 17, 2021

The American Mathematical Society has welcomed UCR math professor John Baez as one of its 2022 fellows. The society counts 30,000 individuals and 570 institutions worldwide as members, but a mere 0.0015% of members enjoy the distinction.  

John Baez
Burton Jones Endowed Chair in Pure Mathematics, John Baez.

Founded in 1888, the society formed to support and encourage people of all backgrounds in their pursuit of careers in the mathematical sciences. Previously named fellows elected 45 scientists this year to join their ranks. Baez was chosen, amongst other things, for his contributions to mathematical physics. 

“Despite its name, mathematical physics is a branch of mathematics, not physics,” Baez explained. “Mathematical physicists take theories of physics, make them precise, and try to prove theorems about them.”

Baez has also made significant contributions to higher category theory, which uses generalizations in order to solve problems and is highly conceptual. 
 
A broad audience knows Baez for his online explanations of mathematics and physics. In 1993, he began writing This Week’s Finds in Mathematical Physics, which has been called the world’s first blog. Initially a roundup of new papers, Baez later began explaining advanced concepts in mathematics and physics, trying to minimize technicalities and get straight to the most interesting ideas. The series was wildly successful and continued for 300 issues. 

Since then, Baez has helped start two well-known blogs: The n-Category Cafe, a group blog on mathematics and physics which began in 2006 and attracts up to 1,000 monthly visits, and Azimuth, a blog focused on mathematics and ecological issues.
 
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Baez helped set up the ACT@UCR seminar, an online seminar on applied category theory, as well as the Category Theory Community Server, an online discussion forum that now has hundreds of users. 

Some of his other activities include editing the Visual Insight blog for the society, a place to share striking images that help explain advanced topics in mathematics. He was recently chosen to write a semiannual column in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, the world’s most read mathematics periodical. 
 
Baez is also in high demand as a speaker, well-known for his ability to reach and inspire an exceptionally wide audience. He has given nearly 300 invited lectures, including prestigious named lectures and lecture series at UC Berkeley and University of Chicago.

As a society fellow, Baez will take part in the election of new fellows, present a public face of excellence in mathematics, and advise the president on public matters. 

“That’s the president of the society, not the president of the U.S.,” Baez clarified.