Archive for Field medal

Cédric Villani elected

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on June 19, 2017 by xi'an

Parcours de mathématiciens

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , on January 25, 2011 by xi'an

Robin Ryder gave me a book to read last week: “Parcours de mathématiciens” by Philippe Pajot, who is a journalist in the vulgarisation journal La Recherche. The book is in fact a series of interviews of twelve French mathematicians with the same canvas: vocation, training, mathematical discoveries, mentors, current state of mathematics, plus an insert or two on a favourite piece of art. The book is part of a series “Comment je suis devenu…” (how I became…), whose aim is to induce new vocations through examples. It is enjoyable because it covers the careers of (mostly) impressive mathematicians, however it lacks the strength of true autobiographies like Laurent Schwartz‘s or the older Hardy’s Apology. Selecting twelve personalities from the French mathematical community is obviously a journalistic reduction, but it is interesting to spot some common features in most of their careers: an overwhelming part had teachers or researchers in their close family, a similar proportion went to Ecole Normale or Polytechnique (with Benoît Mandelbrot resigning from Normale to enter Polytechnique, in reaction against the Bourbakism of the time!), half of them got positions in CNRS at some point, five are or were involved in vulgarisation (Jean-Paul Delahaye regularly contributes to La Recherche and Pour la Science, Denis Guedj wrote a dozen novels relating to mathematics, including the popular Parrot’s Theorem [an dramatised history of mathematics which starts  on the wrong foot by excluding statistics, because “it was too empirical to be a subsection of maths.“]) and most are (rightly) worried about the decrease in the number of math students in France and elsewhere (the four didacticians in the group blaming the way mathematics are taught in primary and secondary schools).

Mathematics on public radio

Posted in University life with tags , , , , , on September 5, 2010 by xi'an

Following the Field medals awarded to Cédric Villani (the head of IHP and a former Dauphine PhD, as our president quickly communicated about) and Ngô Bao Châu (formely at Orsay, now moving to Chicago a fact omitted on the local news!), the French public radio, France Inter, dedicated one of its evening phone debates (Le Telephone Sonne) to research in Mathematics. The panelists were Cédric Villani, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon (head of IHES), and Guy Métivier (head of Mathematics at CNRS). This actually happens rather often (i.e. more often than once every four years when a French mathematician gets a Field medal) and I came across several of those by happenstance. The exercise (explaining to the layman what is the meaning of doing research in Mathematics and what are the advances made by the medalists in the current case) is interesting if delicate as the temptations to get lyrical or technical abound! I found the panelists did a very good job last Wednesday night. (Note that Terry Tao gave a summary of the four panelists’ achievements on his blog.) A very sweet (and my preferred) question was whether or not mathematical objects/concepts have an existence of their own or are created in mathematicians’ minds. In linking pure and applied maths, ie stating that there was no frontier between the two and that pure mathematicians are often involved in fruitful applications, Cédric Villani even mentioned Statistics, which is nice even though I doubt there is the remotest chance a statistician could get the Field Medal. (Incidentally, the COPSS Award, which is the Field Medal of Statistics, was attributed to David Dunson, from Duke, last August. Well-deserved, David!)

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