Visualizing Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering
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  • Jean Taylor

    Imagine blowing soap through the end of a wand that is shaped like a triangle. What shape would the bubble be? Jean Taylor's work in "minimal surfaces" geometry helps to explain not only why the bubble would assume the shape with the least surface-energy-- which is a sphere--but also what happens when two or more bubbles merge. Taylor's thesis at Princeton and her early research were connected to these problems; since then she has extended her analysis of the behavior of soap bubbles to shed light on processes involving other materials comprised of soap-like froth, including the formation of crystals and the solidificaiton of steel.

    Currently Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University and President of the Association of Women in Math (AWM), Taylor first got excited about math in her ninth grade algebra class in Sacramento, California, where she grew up. The encouragement she received from her chemistry teacher led her to major in that subject, however, when she went to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and then to the University of California at Berkeley, where she earned her master's in Chemistry in 1968. There her interest in math was rekindled, and she decided to switch fields, earning a master's from the University of Warwick in England in 1971, and a doctoral degree from Princeton in 1973. That same year she married Frederick Almgren Jr., a Princeton mathematician; together they raised three children who share their passion for the field of mathematics. Her stepdaughter Ann is postdoctoral fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; her stepson Robert is assistant professor at the University of Chicago; and her youngest daughter Karen-whose photograph is in the poster for "Asking the Right Questions"-took Galois Theory at Princeton University while she was in the eleventh grade. When Taylor isn't tackling challenging problems in the world of minimal surfaces geometry, she engages in one of her many adventurous hobbies such as hiking, kayaking, windsurfing, or flying airplanes. She considers mathematics akin to these other pursuits in that it is full of adventure, and affords her tremendous freedom to find new and exciting challenges. When asked what she would tell young women today who are considering careers in mathematics, Taylor puts it simply: "Go for it!"

    Source: biography by Faye Nisonoff Ruopp, in Notable Women in Mathematics: A Biographical Dictionary, ed. Charlene Morrow and Teri Perl. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998.