Phillip Griffiths is awarded the 2014 Chern Medal for his groundbreaking and transformative development of transcendental methods in complex geometry, particularly his seminal work in Hodge theory and periods of algebraic varieties.
Description in a few paragraphs:
Phillip Griffiths’s ongoing work in algebraic geometry, differential geometry, and differential equations has stimulated a wide range of advances in mathematics over the past 50 years and continues to influence and inspire an enormous body of research activity today.
He has brought to bear both classical techniques and strikingly original ideas on a variety of problems in real and complex geometry and laid out a program of applications to period mappings and domains, algebraic cycles, Nevanlinna theory, Brill-Noether theory, and topology of Kähler manifolds.
A characteristic of Griffithss work is that, while it often has a specific problem in view, it has served in multiple instances to open up an entire area to research.
Early on, he made connections between deformation theory and Hodge theory through infinitesimal methods, which led to his discovery of what are now known as the Griffiths infinitesimal period relations. These methods provided the motivation for the Griffiths intermediate Jacobian, which solved the problem of showing algebraic equivalence and homological equivalence of algebraic cycles are distinct. His work with C.H. Clemens on the non-rationality of the cubic threefold became a model for many further applications of transcendental methods to the study of algebraic varieties.
His wide-ranging investigations brought many new techniques to bear on these problems and led to insights and progress in many other areas of geometry that, at first glance, seem far removed from complex geometry. His related investigations into overdetermined systems of differential equations led a revitalization of this subject in the 1980s in the form of exterior differential systems, and he applied this to deep problems in modern differential geometry: Rigidity of isometric embeddings in the overdetermined case and local existence of smooth solutions in the determined case in dimension 3, drawing on deep results in hyperbolic PDEs (in collaborations with Berger, Bryant and Yang), as well as geometric formulations of integrability in the calculus of variations and in the geometry of Lax pairs and treatises on the geometry of conservation laws and variational problems in elliptic, hyperbolic and parabolic PDEs and exterior differential systems.
All of these areas, and many others in algebraic geometry, including web geometry, integrable systems, and Riemann surfaces, are currently seeing important developments that were stimulated by his work.
His teaching career and research leadership has inspired an astounding number of mathematicians who have gone on to stellar careers, both in mathematics and other disciplines. He has been generous with his time, writing many classic expository papers and books, such as “Principles of Algebraic Geometry”, with Joseph Harris, that have inspired students of the subject since the 1960s.
Griffiths has also extensively supported mathematics at the level of research and education through service on and chairmanship of numerous national and international committees and boards committees and boards. In addition to his research career, he served 8 years as Duke’s Provost and 12 years as the Director of the Institute for Advanced Study, and he currently chairs the Science Initiative Group, which assists the development of mathematical training centers in the developing world.
His legacy of research and service to both the mathematics community and the wider scientific world continues to be an inspiration to mathematicians world-wide, enriching our subject and advancing the discipline in manifold ways.