Korean ranks near the top in global math skills, making it a natural choice to host the International Congress of Mathematicians, which will run through Aug. 21. This is the first time that Korea has hosted the conference.
The International Mathematical Union classifies countries into five categories according to the number of theses published by mathematicians and the accomplishments of researchers.
When Korea joined the IMU in 1981, it was part of group 1, the lowest category, because only three or four papers by Korean mathematicians were cited in international journals each year. But Korea's ranking rose to group 2 in 1993 and to 4 in 2007. Now, Korea is essentially part of group 5 along with China, Israel, Russia and the U.S.
Expectations are high that a Korean mathematician could one day clinch the Fields Medal, the top honor in the field.
Three Japanese mathematicians have won the Fields Medal, as have scientists from China and Vietnam.
However, the penchant for gifted Korean students to pursue degrees in medicine, which promises higher salaries, is raising concerns over the future of the field in Korea.