2014 Fields Medals
August 12, 2014 1:47 PM   Subscribe

The 2014 Fields Medals have been awarded to Artur Avila, Manjul Bhargava, Martin Hairer, and Maryam Mirzakhani. Mirzakhani, a professor at Stanford, is the first woman to win math's highest prize, and Avila is the first South American. Erica Klarreich at Quanta Magazine has profiles of all four winners. posted by escabeche (35 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
The same organization awarded Adrián Paenza (another South American) the Leelavati Prize.
posted by Jpfed at 1:52 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


ABOUT TIME.

So mathematicians/science historians of MeFi....what viable female candidates before this haven't won and should have?
posted by barchan at 1:55 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maryam Mirzakhani is also the first Iranian.
posted by PenDevil at 1:57 PM on August 12, 2014


It's super awesome that Professor Mirzakhani won and it's also fascinating (and horrifying) that my first thought after "awesome" was "I wonder what she looks like?". Part of this is ingrained bias; I try so hard to judge women fairly and I AM a woman who doesn't want to be judged by her looks and it makes me crazy that I still think this even though I want to know better.

On the other hand, even though I'm an adult who will NOT be winning a Fields Medal, I think part of me is also wondering "does she look anything like me? Does she have any of the experiences I do? If it was possible for her, is it possible for me?". The answer in this specific case might be "no", but you're never too old to find new sources of inspiration or role models. She and I have different backgrounds and abilities, but even granted that it still means a lot to me to see another woman be recognized like this.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:10 PM on August 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


So mathematicians/science historians of MeFi....what viable female candidates before this haven't won and should have?

Emmy Noether. Wikipedia might tell you that she died the year before the first Fields Medal was awarded, however, this is irrelevant. Emmy Noether should have won all of the math awards and all of the physics awards forever.
posted by officer_fred at 2:15 PM on August 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


It's interesting that each profile describes its subject as humble and approachable and friendly. Is that the actual fact - perhaps something required to do mathematics at a high level nowadays - or is it merely a required stereotype in a Fields Medal profile piece? I'm genuinely curious.
posted by clawsoon at 2:18 PM on August 12, 2014


Is this something where a lay person, whose limits of mathematical knowledge stop at real analysis (heh), won't be able to understand what these people did?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:20 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that each profile describes its subject as humble and approachable and friendly. Is that the actual fact

In the case of Bhargava and Mirzakhani, the two I've met, yes, it's an actual fact.

Is this something where a lay person, whose limits of mathematical knowledge stop at real anaysis (heh), won't be able to understand what these people did?

Unfortunately, that's fairly likely. I mean, Klarreich does a great job, but stops short of literally stating their theorems.

As for Bhargava, you could say he is extremely good at counting points in a very spiky box, but I fear this description doesn't quite get at the supreme technical difficulty of what he's up to.
posted by escabeche at 2:23 PM on August 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


Is this something where a lay person, whose limits of mathematical knowledge stop at real analysis (heh), won't be able to understand what these people did?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:20 PM on August 12 [+] [!]

These are things where a lot of professional mathematicians wouldn't understand what these people did. I had personally asked researchers in Stochastic PDEs and rough paths about Martin Hairer's papers, and many of them said it was too advanced for them.
posted by ILuvMath at 2:27 PM on August 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Pretty important milestone. Good to see the rumours were true! On the other hand I do pity the people who have to make normal human readable profiles of their work. I read the descriptions of their work like 3 times and I still have no idea what they are doing.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:30 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Nice.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:44 PM on August 12, 2014


"YEAH SCIENCE!!"
posted by Fizz at 2:45 PM on August 12, 2014


he is extremely good at counting points in a very spiky box

Pffffft. Thick gloves and an abacus. Book it, done. But do I get one of these Fields medals? It's all politics, man.
posted by yoink at 2:59 PM on August 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


> "So mathematicians/science historians of MeFi ... what viable female candidates before this haven't won and should have?"

Bearing in mind I am not at all an expert, Ingrid Daubechies springs to mind.

As for others, Karen Uhlenbeck?
Nicole Tomczak-Jaegermann?
Dusa McDuff?
Claire Voisin?
Laure Saint-Raymond?
Julia Robinson?
Maria Chudnovsky?
Mary Cartwright?
Cathleen Synge Morawetz?
posted by kyrademon at 3:13 PM on August 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


(I took a class from Dr. Uhlenbeck! It was awesome.)
posted by kmz at 3:15 PM on August 12, 2014


Maryam Mirzakhani at the Mathematics Genealogy Project. (Previously)
Ph.D. Harvard University 2004 UnitedStates
Dissertation: Simple Geodesics on Hyperbolic Surfaces and Volume of the Moduli Space of Curves
Mathematics Subject Classification: 42—Fourier analysis.
Advisor: Curtis Tracy McMullen


Also, see recent New York Times article on the politics behind the hyping of the Fields Medal, How Math Got Its Nobel.
posted by larrybob at 3:56 PM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


here's john baez's recent writeup of noether - "as a woman, she was only allowed to audit courses at the university here. Somehow she finished a PhD thesis in 1907. She then worked here without pay for 7 years, since women were excluded from academic jobs..." (and btw an interesting look at category theorist andrée ehresmann's work)

also fwiw, here's a profile of jim simons (of the simons foundation, which publishes quanta magazine) apparently his hedge fund has been investigated for tax avoidance - "Renaissance's founder, billionaire James Simons, spent $9.8 million to help Democrats — and this year, he's given $2 million to the main Super PAC trying to help Democrats retain control of the Senate."
posted by kliuless at 4:08 PM on August 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


larrybob, interesting article - Dr. Smale, mentioned there, is the father of biologist Dr. Laura Smale, my PhD advisor. I believe her brother also has a PhD. It's a smart family.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:04 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have no idea whether Manjul Bhargava is an Indian national or not, but if he is, he'll be the first Indian to win a Fields medal. I have no way of ascertaining if he's also the first person of Indian origin to win it as well.

Ethnicity/ gender etc is all fun to figure out for the firsts. It stops mattering after the second or third.

Also, I really really ought to finish that course on mathematical models that I signed up for on Coursera...

posted by the cydonian at 8:44 PM on August 12, 2014


Why did Jacob Lurie not win? Was his work on higher category theory too abstract to be deemed prize worthy?
posted by bodywithoutorgans at 8:55 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Was he older than 40 years when he did it? The Fields has its funky age restriction, unlike Nobels.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:07 PM on August 12, 2014


the cydonian, From the Math Union press release

Biography
Born in 1974 in Canada, Manjul Bhargava grew up primarily in the USA and also spent much time in India. He received his PhD in 2001 from Princeton University, under the direction of Andrew Wiles. Bhargava became a professor at Princeton in 2003. His honors include the Merten M. Hasse Prize of the Mathematical Association of America (2003), the Blumenthal Award for the Advancement of Research in Pure Mathematics (2005), the SASTRA Ramanujan Prize (2005), the Cole Prize in Number Theory of the American Mathematical Society (2008), the Fermat Prize (2011), and the Infosys Prize (2012). He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2013.
posted by blob at 9:11 PM on August 12, 2014


One of my good friends is a Maths PhD in Stanford and she could barely contain her excitement over Maryam's win.
posted by divabat at 9:50 PM on August 12, 2014




It's super awesome that Professor Mirzakhani won and it's also fascinating (and horrifying) that my first thought after "awesome" was "I wonder what she looks like?". Part of this is ingrained bias; I try so hard to judge women fairly and I AM a woman who doesn't want to be judged by her looks and it makes me crazy that I still think this even though I want to know better.

Don't be so hard on yourself. I always see what these brilliant Guggenheim, MacArthur, Nobel, ad nauseum folks look like. I'm half expecting them to look like the nutty professor, and half like nutty professors I have met. Although, the Nobel peace prize...the "easy" awards...they all look decent.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:02 PM on August 12, 2014


Finally, I can say that a Fields Medalist accompanied me when I was singing! Manjul is really quite fantastic at the tabla, and through some odd twist of fate ended up performing with us many years ago. I met him before he became a prof at Princeton and he was an incredibly friendly and humble person. Took a google search a few weeks later to realize who he was..
posted by strangeloops at 12:33 AM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


In my professional life I have noticed that brilliant academics, who are also 'young' (late 30s, early 40s) tend to be very humble and kind and nice people. The older generation seems to have a higher concentrations of jerks. I'm not sure why that is, but I suspect that opening the gates so that more people can get a PhD and become academics has helped, including involving more women and people from blue collar backgrounds. Also, being a jerk doesn't really help your career, and it is much more competitive.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:19 AM on August 13, 2014


These are things where a lot of professional mathematicians wouldn't understand what these people did.

That, and the field of mathematics is literally infinite - what seems to be a cozy little corner of human understanding within it can actually be a universe of universes, each mathematician gnawing away at their own crumb of it. More, like in physics, you have applied and theoretical mathematicians doing their thing, and the skill-sets to grok what one another are doing aren't necessarily there.

Math needs a multidisciplinary explainer, someone charismatic and educated/experienced enough to follow along in most fields and translate what's going on for interested laypeople in a way that excites and inspires - physics and biology have had a number of these (NdG-T being the current explainer-in-chief) but math and philosophy haven't been so fortunate.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:21 AM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Math needs a multidisciplinary explainer, someone charismatic and educated/experienced enough to follow along in most fields and translate what's going on for interested laypeople in a way that excites and inspires

Vi Hart!
posted by divabat at 6:25 AM on August 13, 2014


Math needs a multidisciplinary explainer

I think Klarreich is one of the best at this these days; what did you think of her pieces on the Fields Medalists?
posted by escabeche at 7:14 AM on August 13, 2014


re: "the first Indian to win a Fields medal," subhash khot won the nevanlinna prize, "widely considered one of the top honors in his field," which i guess is like the CS version of a fields medal :P

here's klarreich explaining the the unique games conjecture!

also btw...
"The ICM Emmy Noether Lecture honors women who have made fundamental and sustained contributions to the mathematical sciences... The 2014 ICM Emmy Noether lecturer is Georgia Benkart."
posted by kliuless at 7:52 AM on August 13, 2014


I collected a bunch of links yesterday intending to do a post specifically about the fact that Maryam Mirzakhani is the first female Fields Medal winner. I also pretty much expected someone else to beat me to the punch. So here are some of the links I collected (minus a couple I see already posted in the FPP), in no particular order, other than starting with the one I wanted to name my piece after:

Doing Math Like a Girl

Her profile under the heading "Successful Iranians" (In addition to being the first woman, she is also the first Iranian to get the Fields Medal.)

First female winner for Fields maths medal

PDF about her work

Her Wikipedia page

Abstract about her work, with formulas and stuff

She also received the 2014 Clay Research Award

Yay! Math like a girl!
posted by Michele in California at 9:37 AM on August 13, 2014


So I'm trying to see what I can get out of Hairer's paper. Anyone know a quick, rough intro to stochastic PDEs?
posted by benito.strauss at 9:10 PM on August 16, 2014


I donno, Stochastic PDEs are quite physics heavy usually, but please tell us if you find anything. And I'd take more care with the puns on rough paths myself since they play a role in his work. ;)
posted by jeffburdges at 10:34 PM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Totally unintentional, which is rare for me. Thanks for the links.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:58 PM on August 16, 2014


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