The apple really doesn’t really fall far from the tree.
Mathematics Professor Bryna Kra grew up surrounded by numbers. Her father, Polish-born mathematician Irwin Kra, is a renowned scholar who has taught at several top universities — including Northwestern. Under his influence, Kra went on to pursue an education in mathematics and consequently become one of the most distinguished scholars in the country.
Kra, who has served as a professor in Israel, France and different American universities, is also a fellow of the American Mathematical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Between 2009 and 2012, she was chair of the Northwestern’s Department of Mathematics. This May, Kra was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of highest honors given in the STEM field.
In addition to her groundbreaking research on topics that include the ergodic theory and symbolic dynamics, Kra has also gained recognition for supporting women in STEM. At Northwestern, she founded the Women in Mathematics group in 2004, and has helped organize various editions of the Graduate Research Opportunities for Women (GROW).
Due to her success, Kra has served as a role model for other female mathematicians. Mathematics Professor Laura DeMarco said Kra “played a big role” in her decision to move to Northwestern. The two mathematicians investigate dynamical systems, and together attend a weekly seminar on the topic. Although DeMarco believes Kra’s “research accomplishments are truly inspiring,” she thinks her impact goes beyond her scholarly work, especially in the conjecture of women in mathematics.
“About 30% of Ph.D.s in mathematics are awarded to women each year, and also about 30% of new hires are women, for academic positions around the country,” DeMarco said. “If you look at the numbers within the more research-focused departments or among those that are full professors, the percentage is much lower. The latest statistic that I saw is that women hold 14% of the full-time tenured positions in Ph.D.-granting mathematics departments in the U.S.”
Fifth-year graduate student Kitty Yang is one of Kra’s advisees. She believes her nomination to the Academy is a well-deserved result of her hard work.
“Professor Kra strongly deserves this recognition for her research and contributions to the field of dynamical systems,” Yang said. “It's really inspiring to see my adviser achieve this honor, since she works tirelessly on her research and also to support her students.”
DeMarco adds that Kra’s nomination “certainly has an impact on our small community of [women] researchers here at Northwestern.”
“There are very few women at the highest levels in mathematics, and I do think it's great that one of us has received this impressive honor,” DeMarco said. “But it's even better that it is Bryna Kra, because I have a huge amount of respect for what she has accomplished.”
Kra, who was the first woman to chair the Department of Mathematics, is used to being a pioneer in her field. Along with 100 new members and 25 foreign associates, she is a member of a group composed 40% of women, the biggest percentage elected in a single year to date.