Student Spotlight: Soowhan Jack Yoon, mathematician and visual artist

April 14, 2016

Soowhan Yoon, known around campus as Jack, went to the board and finished his masterpiece in less than twenty minutes — two math proofs that he had developed himself.

The senior math major, however, also paints and draws as an art minor. He plans to go to graduate school for math and eventually become a professor, where he can continue his mathematical research.

Yoon was born in South Korea but has lived in the U.S. for seven years. He is a graduate of Tallulah Falls High School in Tallulah Falls, GA.

“Since I was little, I’ve always enjoyed math, but I didn’t like going to school very much,” Yoon said. “I didn’t like taking math classes at school when I was back in Korea, but I did enjoy studying and imagining things on my own.”

Yoon came to Mercer University because he knew he’d be able to study both math and music.

He said that a course taught by mathematics professor Margaret Symington opened him up to a new world of mathematics, which allowed him to study math more seriously on his own.

“Ever since I took [Dr. Symington’s class], I got more interested in the topics that seemed enjoyable but are not necessarily taught in regular courses,” he said.

Yoon had an interest in visual art as a child, but he soon lost it because of the level of competition in Korea.

“When I was I little, there was a time when I took art lessons after school,” he said. “I enjoyed art, but a lot of students in Korea are very competitive in the arts.”

Yoon solidified his decision to become an art minor when he went on a faculty-led study abroad trip to Florence, Italy.

“The courses that were offered in the summer program were philosophy and art, and I chose art,” Yoon said.

He said he was able to appreciate art again because he didn’t feel like he was competing or being judged anymore.

“That supportive environment allowed for my interest in art to return,” Yoon said.

He plans to continue to draw and paint alongside pursuing a career in math.

“Although math and art seem a little far away from each other, moments in math require creativity,” he said. “Math challenges you in a way that if you can’t come up with a creative way to solve a problem, then you’re stuck.”

Yoon said coming up with the new formulas was only possible because he began to think in a creative way.

He began by studying the Fibonacci sequence and the constant known as Golden Ratio during his sophomore year at Mercer.

“I felt that something more could be done about it,” Yoon said. “My imagination allowed me to establish a new equation.”

Yoon worked on this equation, an analytic generalization of Binet’s formula, during his entire junior year but didn’t expect to establish another during his senior year.

He contacted Richard Stanley a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the help of Symington and Curtis Herink, a professor of mathematics, and received the resources he needed to establish another formula, the polynomial root formula.

Yoon presented his research on the first equation at Bear Day 2015, and his second at this year’s Bear Day. He was also recently inducted into Mercer’s Zeta chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

Yoon’s proofs can be found at http://jointmathematicsmeetings.org/amsmtgs/2181_abstracts/1116-vw-1648.pdf

 

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