Fan Chung – biography, fact, career, awards, net worth and life story

Is Mathematician 
Computer scientist 
From United States of America 
Type Mathematics 
Birth 9 October 1949, Kaohsiung City
Age:70 years

Fan-Rong King Chung Graham (Chinese: 金芳蓉; pinyin: Jīn Fāngróng; born October 9, 1949), known professionally as Fan Chung, is a mathematician who works mainly in the areas of spectral graph theory, extremal graph theory and random graphs, in particular in generalizing the Erdős–Rényi model for graphs with general degree distribution (including power-law graphs in the study of large information networks).


Since 1998 Chung has been the Akamai Professor in Internet Mathematics at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). She received her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974, under the direction of Herbert Wilf. After working at Bell Laboratories and Bellcore for nineteen years, she joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania as the first female tenured professor in mathematics. She serves on the editorial boards of more than a dozen international journals. Since 2003 she has been the editor-in-chief of Internet Mathematics. She has given invited lectures in many conferences, including the International Congress of Mathematicians in 1994, and a plenary lecture on the mathematics of PageRank at the 2008 Annual meeting of the American Mathematical Society. She was selected to be a Noether Lecturer in 2009.

Chung has two children, the first born during her graduate studies, from her first marriage. Since 1983 she has been married to the mathematician Ronald Graham. They were close friends of the mathematician Paul Erdős, and have both published papers with him – 13 in her case; thus, both have Erdős numbers of 1.

She has published more than 200 research papers and three books:

  • Erdős on Graphs: His Legacy of Unsolved Problems (with Ron Graham), A K Peters, Ltd., 1998, ISBN 1-56881-079-2
  • Spectral Graph Theory (CBMS Regional Conference Series in Mathematics, No. 92), American Mathematical Society, 1997, ISBN 0-8218-0315-8
  • Complex Graphs and Networks (CBMS Regional Conference Series in Mathematics, No. 107 ” (with Linyuan Lu), American Mathematical Society, 2006, ISBN 0-8218-3657-9

In 2012, she became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.


Fan Chung was born on October 9, 1949 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Under the influence of her father, an engineer, she started to be interested in mathematics, especially in the area of combinatorics in high school in Kaoshiung. After high school, Chung entered the National Taiwan University (NTU) to start her career in mathematics formally. While Chung was an undergraduate, she was surrounded by many women mathematicians. They talked about the mathematics and helped each other. Seeing more and more women doing well in mathematics also encouraged Chung to study mathematics.

After graduating from NTU with a B.S. in mathematics, Chung went on to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue a career in mathematics. There she obtained the highest score in the qualifying exam by a wide margin, catching the attention of Herbert Wilf, who would eventually become her doctoral advisor. Wilf suggested Ramsey Theory as a subject Chung could work on. During a single week studying material Chung had come up with new proofs for established results in the field. Prof. Wilf said: “My eyes were bulging. I was very excited. I asked her to go to the blackboard and show me. What she wrote was incredible! In just one week, from a cold start, she had a major result in Ramsey theory. I told her she had just done two-thirds of a doctoral dissertation.”

Chung was awarded a M.S. in 1972 and a Ph.D. two years later. By this time, she was married and had already given birth to her first child. The same year she received her Ph.D. and started working for the Mathematical Foundations of Computing Department at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. The position at Bell Laboratories was an opportunity to work with other excellent mathematicians, but also it contributed to her mathematical world powerfully. She published many impressive mathematical papers and published many joint papers with Ron Graham.

After twenty years of work at Bell Laboratories and Bellcore, Chung decided to go back University of Pennsylvania to become a professor of mathematics. In 1998, she was named Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at University of California, San Diego. To date, she has over 200 publications to her name. The two best known books are Spectral Graph Theory and Erdős on Graphs. Spectral Graph Theory studies how the spectrum of the Laplacian of a graph is related to its combinatorial properties. Erdős on Graphs, which was jointly written by Fan Chung and Ron Graham, studies many of Paul Erdős problems and conjectures in graph theory. Beyond her contributions to graph theory, Chung has used her knowledge to connect different fields of science. As she wrote in “Graph Theory in the Information Age”,

In the past decade, graph theory has gone through a remarkable shift and a profound transformation. The change is in large part due to the humongous amount of information that we are confronted with. A main way to sort through massive data sets is to build and examine the network formed by interrelations. For example, Google’s successful Web search algorithms are based on the WWW graph, which contains all Web pages as vertices and hyperlinks as edges. There are all sorts of information networks, such as biological networks built from biological databases and social networks formed by email, phone calls, instant messaging, etc., as well as various types of physical networks. Of particular interest to mathematicians is the collaboration graph, which is based on the data from Mathematical Reviews. In the collaboration graph, every mathematician is a vertex, and two mathematicians who wrote a joint paper are connected.
  • Chung, Fan Graph Theory in the Information Age January 2009, Washington D.C

Fan Chung and Bell Laboratories

In 1974, Fan Chung graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and became a member of Technical Staff working for the Mathematical Foundations of Computing Department at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. She worked under Henry Pollak. During this time, Chung collaborated with many leading mathematicians who work for Bell Laboratories such as Ron Graham.

In 1975, Chung published her first joint paper with Ron Graham on Multicolor Ramsey Numbers for Complete Bipartite Graphs which was published in the Journal of Combinatorial Theory.

In 1983 the Bell Telephone Company was split up. Since Henry Pollak joined and became head of a research unit within a new company, he asked Chung to become Research Manager. Until 1990, she was one of the first to receive a fellowship to spend a sabbatical at a university. She supervised many mathematicians in the unit.

According to Chung’s words, although people respect her because of the power to make decisions with positions in management, she prefers to be respected because of her achievement in mathematics. Since then, she has returned to the academic world.

Fan Chung and Ron Graham

Fan Chung’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1982. However, when she worked at Bell Laboratories, she met Ronald Graham. During that time, they became close friends and published many joint papers in graph theory, eventually marrying in 1983. In Paul Hoffman’s book The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, regarding his marriage with Chung, Graham said:

Many mathematicians would hate to marry someone in the profession. They fear their relationship would be too competitive. In our case, not only are we both mathematicians, we both do work in the same areas. So we can understand and appreciate what the other is working on, and we can work on things together and sometimes make good progress.

In 1998, Graham and Chung co-wrote the book Erdős on Graphs.

Fan Chung and spectral graph theory

Among Fan Chung’s publications, her contributions to spectral graph theory are important to this area of graph theory. From the first publications about undirected graphs to recent publications about the directed graphs, Fan Chung creates the solid base in the spectral graph theory to the future graph theorist.

Spectral graph theory, as one of the most important theories in graph theory, combines the algebra and graph perfectly. Algebraic methods treat many types of graphs efficiently. According to the biography Fan Rong K Chung Graham, “Spectral graph theory studies how the spectrum of the Laplacian of a graph is related to its combinatorial properties.”‘.

In 1997, the American Mathematical Society published Chung’s book Spectral graph theory. This book became a standard textbook at many universities and is the key to study Spectral graph theory for many mathematics students who are interested in this area. Fan Chung’s study in the spectral graph theory brings this “algebraic connectivity” of graphs into a new and higher level.

Awards and honors

Fan Chung won the Allendoerfer Award of the Mathematical Association of America in 1990 and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998. She also served on many journals and committees.