Agnes Scott College

Karen E. Smith

Karen Smith

May 9, 1965 -

Reprinted with permission from The Notices of the American Mathematical Society, April 2001, Vol. 48, No. 4, p411-412.

Karen E. Smith was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, near the Jersey shore. Although she always loved mathematics and wanted to be a mathematician from a young age, she did not realize that one could have a career as a mathematician until college, when her freshman calculus teacher, Professor Charles Fefferman, suggested it. She graduated from Princeton University in 1987 with a major in mathematics and certification to teach high school mathematics in New Jersey public schools. After teaching high school mathematics for a year, she looked into the possibilities of graduate school and learned that one could actually get full support to work on a Ph.D. At this point, she decided to make a big change, and went off to the midwest for graduate school.

At the University of Michigan, Smith wrote a thesis in commutative algebra under the direction of Professor Melvin Hochester, finishing in 1993 [Abstract]. After spending one year working with Craig Huneke at Purdue University on an NSF postdoctoral fellowship, she moved to Massachusetts to be a Moore Instructor at MIT. Although she enjoyed Boston and was promoted to Assistant Professor at MIT, she and her husband moved back to Ann Arbor in 1997, where they had met nine years earlier. Smith is now teaching and doing research in algebraic geometry and commutative algebra at the University of Michigan. She has a daughter, Sanelma, born in 1998 with whom she very much enjoys discussing mathematics, and boy-girl twins, Tapio and Helena, born in 2003.

Karen Smith was awarded the 2001 Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize in recognition of her work in commutative algebra. This prize is awarded every two years to recognize an outstanding contribution to mathematics research by a woman in the previous five years. Following is the selection committee's citation:

The Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize in Mathematics is awarded to Karen E. Smith of the University of Michigan for her outstanding work in commutative algebra, which has established her as a world leader in the study of tight closure, an important tool in the subject introduced by Hochster and Huneke. It is also awarded for her more recent work which builds new bridges between commutative algebra and algebraic geometry via the concept of tight closure. In particular, the prize is awarded for her papers (1) "Tight closure of parameter ideals", Invent. Math. 115 (1994), 41-60; (2) "F-rational rings have rational singularities", Amer. J. Math. 119 (1997), 159-180; and (3) (with Gennady Lyubeznik) "Weak and strong F-regularity are equivalent in graded rings", Amer. J. Math. 121 (1999), 1279-1290.

Professor Smith is the author of An Invitation to Algebraic Geometry, published by Springer-Verlag in 2000.


  1. Karen Smith's Home Page
  2. Flapan, Laure. "Karen E. Smith Interview," Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Vol. 64, No. 7 (July 2017), 718-720.
  3. MathSciNet [subscription required]
  4. Author Profile at zbMath
  5. Mathematics Genealogy Project
  6. Smith, Karen. "My Path towards Mathematics," Complexities: Women in Mathematics, Bettye Anne Case and Anne M. Leggett, Editors, Princeton University Press, 2005, pages 372-381.

Photo Credit: Photograph used with permission of Karen Smith