Ken Ono

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Ken Ono
Ken Ono in 2015 at the Toronto International Film Festival
Born (1968-03-20) 20 March 1968 (age 53)
NationalityUnited States
Alma materUCLA
University of Chicago
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Virginia[1]
Emory University
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Doctoral advisorBasil Gordon
Notable studentsDaniel Kane
Karl Mahlburg
Robert Schneider
Gwynneth Coogan

Ken Ono (born 20 March 1968) is a Japanese-American mathematician who specializes in number theory, especially in integer partitions, modular forms, Umbral moonshine, the Riemann Hypothesis and the fields of interest to Srinivasa Ramanujan. He was the Manasse Professor of Letters and Science and the Hilldale Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and also was formerly the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Mathematics at Emory University.

He is currently the Thomas Jefferson Professor of Mathematics at the University of Virginia and the Chair of the Mathematics Section in the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was the Vice President of the American Mathematical Society from 2018 to 2021.

Early life and education[edit]

Ono is the son of mathematician Takashi Ono, who emigrated from Japan to the United States after World War II. His older brother, immunologist and university president Santa J. Ono, was born while Takashi Ono was in Canada working at the University of British Columbia, but by the time Ken Ono was born the family had returned to the US for a position at the University of Pennsylvania.[2] In the 1980s, Ono attended Towson High School, but he dropped out. He later enrolled at the University of Chicago without a high school diploma. There he raced bicycles, and he was a member of the PepsiMiyata Cycling Team.

He received his BA from the University of Chicago in 1989, where he was a member of the Psi Upsilon fraternity. He earned his PhD in 1993 at UCLA where his advisor was Basil Gordon.[3] Initially he planned to study medicine, but later switched to mathematics. He attributes his interest in mathematics to his father.[4]

Career and research[edit]

Ono's contributions include several monographs and over 190 research and popular articles in number theory, combinatorics, and algebra. He is considered to be an expert in the theory of integer partitions and modular forms. In 2000 he greatly expanded Ramanujan's theory of partition congruences, and in work with Kathrin Bringmann he has made important contributions to the theory of Maass forms, functions which include Ramanujan's mock theta functions as examples. In 2007 Don Zagier gave a Seminar Bourbaki address on the work of Bringmann, Ono, and Zwegers on the mock theta functions. The 2009 SASTRA Ramanujan Prize, awarded to a young mathematician under the age of 32, was awarded to Kathrin Bringmann for this joint work with Ono.

Ono has received many awards for his research. In April 2000 he received the Presidential Career Award (PECASE) from Bill Clinton in a ceremony at the White House, and in June 2005 he received the National Science Foundation Director's Distinguished Teaching Scholar Award at the National Academy of Science. He has also won a Sloan Fellowship, a Packard Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2012 he became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.[5]

In 2011 and 2015 Ono gave TED talks.[6][7]

In a joint work with Jan Bruinier, he discovered a finite algebraic formula for computing partition numbers.[8]

He stars in the 2013 docudrama "The genius of Srinivasa Ramanujan".[9]

He is profiled in the May 2014 issue of Scientific American.[10] He was an Associate Producer and the mathematical consultant for the movie The Man Who Knew Infinity based on Ramanujan's biography written by Robert Kanigel.[11] Ken Ono was chaired, on June 7, 2019, as Thomas Jefferson Professor of Mathematics, at the University of Virginia.[12]

A framework for the Rogers–Ramanujan identities[edit]

In April 2014 Ono announced that he and two others had found a framework for the Rogers–Ramanujan identities and their arithmetic properties, solving a long-standing mystery stemming from the work of Ramanujan. The findings yield a treasure trove of algebraic numbers and formulas to access them. Ono's co-authors for this work were S. Ole Warnaar of the University of Queensland and Michael Griffin, an Emory University graduate student. Their work made world news that year and was ranked 15th among the top 100 stories of 2014 in science in Discover magazine.[13]

After 15 years of focusing on the Rogers–Ramanujan identities, Warnaar had found a way to embed them into a much larger class of similar identities using representation theory. When Ono saw Warnaar's work, "It just clicked," Ono recalls. "Now we can extract infinitely many functions whose values are algebraic numbers."[14]

Proof of the Umbral Moonshine Conjecture[edit]

In a joint paper (co-authored with John Duncan and Michael Griffin),[15] Ono proved the Umbral moonshine Conjecture. This conjecture was formulated by Miranda Cheng, John Duncan, and Jeff Harvey, and is a generalization of the Monstrous Moonshine Conjecture proved by Fields medalist Richard Borcherds.

Work on the Riemann Hypothesis[edit]

In May 2019 Ono published a joint paper (co-authored with Don Zagier and two former students) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences[16] on the Riemann Hypothesis. Their work proves a large portion of the Jensen-Polya criterion for the Riemann Hypothesis. However, the Riemann Hypothesis remains unsolved. Their work also establishes the Gaussian Unitary Ensemble random matrix condition in derivative aspect for the derivatives of the Riemann Xi function. Fields medalist Enrico Bombieri published a commentary in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA[17] explaining the significance of this work.

Personal life[edit]

In recent years, Ono has resumed athletic training as a runner, swimmer and cyclist; since 2012, he has competed in triathlons as a member of Team USA.

Honors and awards[edit]

  • National Security Agency Young Investigator (1997)
  • National Science Foundation CAREER Award (1998)
  • Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship (1999)
  • David and Lucile Packard Research Fellowship (1999)
  • Presidential Early Career Award (awarded by Clinton) (2000)
  • National Science Foundation CBMS Distinguished Lecturer (2003)
  • John S. Guggenheim Fellowship (2003)
  • Manasse Professor of Letters and Science, U. Wisconsin (2004–2011)
  • National Science Foundation Director's Distinguished Teaching Scholar Award (2005)
  • Hilldale Professor of Mathematics, U. Wisconsin (2008–2011)
  • Candler Professor of Mathematics, Emory University (2010–present)
  • Fellow of the American Mathematical Society (2013)
  • Albert E. Levy Award for Scientific Research (2014)
  • MAA George Pólya Distinguished Lecturer (2016–2017)
  • International Science Film Festival Technical Award (2017)
  • Eleanor Main Graduate Mentor Award (2017)
  • Prose Award (Best Scholarly Book in Mathematics), Awarded by the American Publishers, (2018)
  • Thomas Jefferson Professor of Mathematics, University of Virginia (Fall 2019-)
  • Distinguished Spotlight Researcher Award, University of Virginia (2020)

Editorial boards[edit]

Ono is on the editorial board of several journals:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fall 2019, Thomas Jefferson Professor of Mathematics:[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Bach, John (April 2013), "Getting to know Ono", UC Magazine. Although primarily a profile of Ono's brother, this article also includes some details of Ono's early family life.
  3. ^ Ken Ono at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  4. ^ Saikia, Manjil (23 February 2015). "In conversation with Prof. Ken Ono: Gonit Sora". Gonit Sora. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  5. ^ List of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society, retrieved 2013-03-20.
  6. ^ "-Infinity to Infinity, TED".
  7. ^ "Live mathematically, but not by the numbers, TED".
  8. ^ Kavassalis, Sarah. "Finite formula found for partition numbers". The Language of Bad Physics. Archived from the original on 18 February 2011. Retrieved 1 March 2011.
  9. ^ "The genius of Srinivasa Ramanujan,".
  10. ^ Bleicher, Ariel (2014). "The Oracle, Scientific American". Scientific American. 310 (5): 70–75. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0514-70. PMID 24783595.
  11. ^ Saikia, Manjil (23 February 2015). "In conversation with Prof. Ken Ono: Gonit Sora". Gonit Sora. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  12. ^ Fall 2019, Thomas Jefferson Professor of Mathematics:[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ "Mother lode of mathematical identities discovered, Discover".
  14. ^ Griffin, Michael J.; Ono, Ken; Warnaar, S. Ole (2014). "A framework of Rogers–Ramanujan identities and their arithmetic properties". Duke Mathematical Journal. 165 (8). arXiv:1401.7718. doi:10.1215/00127094-3449994. S2CID 119616304.
  15. ^ Duncan, John; Griffin, Michael J.; Ono, Ken (2015). "Proof of the Umbral Moonshine Conjecture". Research in the Mathematical Sciences. 2. arXiv:1503.01472. doi:10.1186/s40687-015-0044-7. S2CID 43589605.
  16. ^ Griffin, Michael J.; Ono, Ken; Rolen, Larry; Zagier, Don (2019). "Jensen polynomials for the Riemann zeta function and other sequences". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 116 (23): 11103–11110. arXiv:1902.07321. doi:10.1073/pnas.1902572116. PMC 6561287. PMID 31113886.
  17. ^ Bombieri, Enrico (2019). "New progress on the zeta function: From old conjectures to a major breakthrough". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 116 (23): 11085–11086. doi:10.1073/pnas.1906804116. PMC 6561272. PMID 31123152.

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