Lai-Sang Young was born in Hong Kong and emigrated to the United States to pursue higher education in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (B.A., 1973) and the University of California, Berkeley (M.S., 1976; Ph.D., 1978). She published her first paper as a graduate student in 1977, and conducted doctoral research under the direction of Robert Bowen; resulting a dissertation, entitled Entropy and Symbolic Dynamics of Certain Smooth Systems. She began her illustrious academic career at Northwestern University, and in 1980, moved to Michigan State University where she was promoted to Associate Professor in 1984. She then moved to the University of Arizona in 1987, where she became Professor of Mathematics in 1990, spent nine years at UCLA, and in 1999 joined NYU's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. She visited the University of Warwick in England, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at Berkeley, Universitat Bielefeld in Germany, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and the College de France, among others.
Lai-Sang Young has done pioneering work on dynamical systems. Her interests in geometric ergodic theory include applications, and connections to probability and mathematical physics. Chaotic dynamical systems are her specialty; the main themes of her research interests are measurements of dynamical complexity, strange attractors, cumulative effects of small random perturbations ("noise") on long term behavior of dynamical systems, and probabilistic laws for chaotic systems. Lai-Sang has authored or co-authored over 50 scholarly publications as well as numerous expository articles, and has been an invited plenary lecturer for meetings of the AMS, SIAM, and IMA, as well as for the ICM, and ICMP (International Congress of Mathematical Physics). Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation from 1979 to the present, and has garnered wide respect and acclaim. In 1985, she was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, an award reserved for individuals within six years of earning the Ph.D. who demonstrate "the most outstanding promise of making fundamental contributions to new knowledge". In 1993 she was awarded the Ruth Lynn Satter Prize for sustained outstanding research contributions over a five-year period by a female mathematician. She was awarded in 1997 a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and was elected in 2004 as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, "an international learned society composed of the world's leading scientists, scholars, artists, business people, and public leaders".
In response to the presentation of the Ruth Lynn Satter Prize over a decade ago, Lai-Sang Young poignantly recognized the gains as well as the obstacles for women in mathematics, and her comments are just as relevant today: "There is no doubt that our situation has improved; life in academia for women is easier for my generation than the generation before. I feel that more institutional support is still needed for women who try to juggle career and family, and a conscious effort on our part is necessary if we are to rid ourselves of the cultural prejudices that have existed for so long."
- 2004 AWM Noether lecture planning committee: Debra Warne (chair), Lenore Blum, Irwin Kra