Dusa McDuff launched her career while she was a graduate student at Cambridge University (where she earned her Ph.D. in 1971) when she solved a well-known problem about von Neumann algebras, by constructing infinitely many different factors of type "II-one." After this, she had the opportunity to travel to Moscow where she had the good fortune to study with Israel M. Gel'fand, who taught her to view math as a kind of poetry and whose work greatly influenced her own. McDuff returned to Cambridge for a two-year Science Research Council Fellowship, before being appointed lecturer first at the University of York (1972-1976) and then at the University of Warwick (1976-1978).
It was during her years at York and Warwick that McDuff realized some of the real difficulties involved in reconciling the demands of a career with her life as a woman. McDuff recalls feeling "very isolated" in a male-dominated field, and having to serve not only as the "family breadwinner" but also as "housekeeper and diaper changer" (her husband "said that diapers were too geometric for him to manage").
When McDuff was offered a visiting position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1974-1975), she felt she was at a turning point in her career, realizing simultaneously that she was very far from being the kind of mathematician she felt she could be and that she could do something about it. She became in her own words "much less passive"--applying and getting into the Institute for Advanced Study, separating from her husband, delving into new mathematical problems concerning the relation between groups of diffeomorphisms and the classifying space for foliations, and publishing a joint paper with Graeme Segal on the Group Completion Theorem.
Over the past twelve years, McDuff has worked on global symplectic geometry. This geometry is a structure on space that underlies many of the equations governing both classical and modern theories of Physics. Until recently, very little was known about it because there were no suitable tools with which to analyze it. McDuff has helped in the development of an understanding of its basic properties, and, together with Dietmar Salomon, has written a basic textbook on the subject. She has also remarried, to Jack Milnor, had a second child, and has been awarded numerous honors including the Satter Prize of the American Mathematical Society in 1991.
Dusa McDuff was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1994 and a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1999. At the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where McDuff has been Professor of Mathematics since 1978, she has been a major participant in Calculus reform, and has been very active in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program. This program offers academic, financial and social support to female undergraduate students in those fields.
For information on the WISE program, contact Dean Wendy Katkin, SUNY, Stony Brook, NY 11794-3391. Telephone: (516) 632-6998.