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Fern Y. Hunt

  • Ethnicity: African American
  • Gender: F
Computing & Applied Mathematics Laboratory
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-0001
Voice (301) 975-3887


  • Ph.D. Institution: Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, 1978
  • MS Institution: Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences
  • AB Institution: Bryn Mawr College


Dr. Fern Hunt was born to Daphne Lindsay and Thomas Edward Hunt. Neither of her parents was mathematically inclined. She has one sister, Erica Hunt, who is a published poet and writer. Her grandparents immigrated to the United States from Jamaica prior to World War I. Essentially, Jamaica then was a British colony that was stratified by color and so they came to the States looking for more opportunities. At this time there was a large West Indian migration into the city.

Her father did not finish high school, but her mother did attend Hunter College for two years and then she could no longer afford the costs of higher Education. Her mother encouraged Hunt to attend college and, as a result, she entered Bryn Mawr College. She majored in mathematics, a decision she had reached by the age of 15. During her time as an undergraduate she was encouraged to pursue her interest in mathematics. In particular, during her junior year her professor, Dr. Martin Avery Snyder, urged her to attend the graduate school he had attended, the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University.

While at the Courant Institute she held a fellowship that paid for her tuition and provided her with a small stipend. However, she lost her fellowship after receiving a B on her qualifying examination. She then started to work, teaching part-time at the City College of New York. She also was the recipient of a Martin Luther King Scholarship and this helped her to help pay for tuition. She received both her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the Courant Institute.

After finishing her dissertation she took at job at the University of Utah. Although she enjoyed working and living in Salt Lake City very much, she decided to move back East where she would be closer to her family.

Hunt has not limited herself to working only in academia. From 1981-1982 she worked for the National Institutes of Health in the Laboratory of Mathematical Biology. She was a member of the Graduate Record Examination Mathematics Advisory Board (1988-1991) and a consultant for the National Bureau of Standards (1986-1991). In 1993, Hunt left Howard University and began her present career at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In addition she serves on the Board of Trustees for Bryn Mawr College and the Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee for the Department of Energy.

Her research interests include dynamical systems and applied probability. In particular she has been looking at Monte Carlo methods for solutions of partial differential equations. She has also been looking at modeling with magnetic materials and at stochastic geometry problems. Hunt has previously been involved with biomathematics, specifically, patterns in gram negative bacteria and genetic variation. Other interests include chaos theory. She uses both computer models and analytical methods in her work. She is widely published, has given many talks, and is the recipient of many research grants.

Hunt is also active in the profession and in the local community. She has given many presentations at meetings of the AMS and MAA. She has been an active participant in the Conference of African American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences (CAARMS) and also teaches in a summer program to encourage women and minority students to pursue graduate study in mathematics.

To encourage students Hunt suggests that they should really take the time to find out who they are and what they like. She challenges them to find their own path and not to follow along with what everyone else is doing. If this introspective process lead them to discover that they enjoy mathematics, then they should pursue their interest wholeheartedly, and they should look for people who will be supportive of them.

[Kathleen Ambruso]