International Congress of Mathematics was held at Hyderabad in India this year. Unfortunately, these kinds of events generally lost in the glamor of awards and laudations of few individuals. Mathematicians are weired creatures, at least when it comes to awards. They try their best to keep the novice out of their domain. Engineers are diagonally opposite. Despite of all the claims that their awards are targeted on young people so they can be brought in to research, their rewards do not motivate anyone who gets it. How many awards they give anyway. Two are the most prominent of them which are given by Mathematicians to Mathematicians are Fields and Nevanlinna Awards. Once in every four years! How many they did motivate in a decade? 2 and a half men! Kid (below 40 years of age) who have got it is already super-motivated and hardly need any support. Already all door are open to him – already a professor in some university!. Funny people.
|Dan Spielman. Smooth Operator.|
Well, for journalism and literature etc these awards do matter. They make their recipients hugely popular and lot of people start consuming their works. But in the case of Mathematics, this is also not the case. There is no chance I can read and understand their works. But wait, this year was slightly different. They awarded Nevanlinna prize to Daniel Spielman.. Now his work is written so well that even you and me can read it. First time in the history of Mathematics, seems like readability matters.
The other Mathematician whom I can read is Terrence Tao. His blogs are very informative and his books are just awesome. Though, I also romanticize Manjul Bhargava, but you know, these Princeton guys find a lot of pleasure in making their work unreadable for lesser mortals.
Now since the time of G. H. Hardy’s A Mathematician Apology, a lot of things have changed for good in this world of Mathematics. The boundaries are fast disappearing between pure and applied mathematics. Look at the work profile of all seven prize winners. Even historically, these boundaries drawn out between pure and applied mathematics were ill conceived (Sorry, Hardy!). People who were trying to solve everyday problems came up with theories which later laid the foundation of pure mathematics. Problem of Heat Conduction gave birth to Fourier Series. Euclid and Archimedes were fascinated with their own everyday problems. Even the innocent looking axioms did not reveal themselves. They were found while finding a solution to some problem. I am happy that these boundaries are disappearing. But there will always be a need to protect Mathematics from utilitarian school of thoughts.
The Hindu newspaper, with a history of understanding science, had this to say about this year ICM,
Indeed, some very important talks in the Hyderabad Congress are in areas of pure mathematics inspired by problems in applied mathematics. It is this wonderful duality of mathematics — the joy of pursuit of pure mathematics for its intrinsic aesthetic experience, and its increasing relevance to real-life problems — that must be projected in greater measure to school and college students.
INDIA RISING AGAIN?
There was bit euphoria in Indian Mathematical circles since it was the first time ICM was held in India, possible to acknowledge that current Indian contribution to the world of Mathematics is reasonable good and increasing. Possibly that is why they also they named one of their award after Leelavati.
Now Indian contribution to Number Theory is perhaps well known. A lot of Indian Mathematicians, except Ramanujan, were spoilt by Hardy to work on his life long fascination of series and convergence – as Andrew Weil ( Professor at Aligarh Muslim University, of Barbauki fame) once said. Beyond Ramanujan, we had K. Ananda Rau, S.S. Pillai, S. Chawla, T. Vijayaraghvan, K. Chandrashekhran, S. Minakshisundram.
A very prominent Indian Mathematician M. S. Raghunathan, wrote in 2007, "Our nurture of the potential has been less than satisfactory. But there is room for cautious optimism about the future." After three years in 2010, he made a claim that, "While the numbers in India are small and on the average Indian mathematicians may not have a good standing, the peaks are world class.” Now the media, which are bitten by the super-power syndrome did not hesitate to headline it, "India a world mathematics power, says Professor Raghunathan."
On some positive side, my Institute IIT Bombay and TIFR Mumbai are comping up National Center of Mathematics at IITB campus. And just a note, the committee which awarded Spielman award was headed by ex-EE IIT Bombay, Ravi Kannan.
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 This blogger follows R. Ramachandran, The Hindu for his daily science updates. He holds a Ph.D. from TIFR who has the history of producing some of the brightest scientist.