Tag Archives: FIelds medal

Two Christmas Presents

Two Christmas presents for you.  Yes Christmas presents.  I refuse to be culturally castrated by the professionally aggrieved.

The first is a link to a great scientific website — https://www.quantamagazine.org. It’s primarily about math and physics, with some biology thrown in. Imagine the News and Views section of Nature or the Perspectives section of Science on steroids.

Quanta is an editorially independent division of the Simons Foundation. And what is that you enquire? It is the answer to “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich”. Jim Simons is both much smarter and much richer than you and I. You can read more about him in a book I’m about to review on the blog — “The Physics of Wall Street”

Simons was a very accomplished mathematician winning prizes with a friend James Ax in the 60’s and 70’s — not quite the Fields Medal but up there. The Simons Chern 3 form is part of string theory. The two founded Renaissance Technologies in the late 80’s a stock fund using mathematical techniques to beat the market. And beat it they did, averaging 40% a year (after fees which were hefty). Even in the most recent market blowout in 2008 they were up 80% for the year. The firm employs about 200 people, mostly mathematicians and physicists. It was described by an MIT math prof as ‘the best mathematics and physics department in the world”.

At any rate after becoming a multibillionaire, Simons established his foundation, of which Quanta is a small part. It’s very good, with some heavies writing for it — such as Ingrid Daubechies full prof of math at Princeton who did a good deal of the early work on wavelets.

I haven’t read it all but the math is incredible, mostly about the latest and greatest new results and why it is important placing it in context. Physics isn’t forgotten, and the lead article concerns the philosophy of science and how it’s a’changin’ a la string theory, which is light years away from an experimental test of any of it.

Your second Christmas present is a Joke

The pope visited Colorado 22 years ago. A little known fact about him is that he loved to drive. Although Colorado is famed for the Rockies, the eastern half is high plains, so flat that you can see Pike’s peak from 100 miles away across the plains. At any rate the pope was being driven by his chauffeur from Colorado Springs to Denver on the Interstate, when the pope asked if he could drive. “Only if we go out on the plains where no one will see you” said the chauffeur.

So they switched when they got about 30 miles out in the middle of nowhere with the pope driving and the chauffeur in the back seat both behind tinted opaque windows. The pope started driving, really enjoying it, going faster and faster. He got up to 85 when a state trooper pulled them over.

Where’s the fire saith the trooper. He blanched when the driver’s window came down and he saw who was driving, and called headquarters. Arrest him came the answer. The trooper said I’m not sure, this guy is very big. I don’t care how big he is, arrest him. Are you sure. Yes.

I dunno boss, this guy is so big he’s got the pope driving for him.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all


Maryam Mirzakhani

“The universal scientific language is broken English.” So sayeth Don Voet 50+ years ago when we were graduate students. He should know, as his parents were smart enough to get the hell out of the Netherlands before WWII. I met them and they told me that there was some minor incident there involving Germans who promptly went bananas. They decided that this wasn’t the way a friendly country behaved and got out. Just about everyone two generations back in my family was an immigrant, so I heard a lot of heavily accented (if not broken) English growing up.

Which (at last) brings us to Maryam Mirzakhani, a person probably not familiar to chemists, but a brilliant mathematician who has just won the Fields Medal (the Nobel of mathematics). Born in Teheran and educated through college there, she came to Harvard for her PhD, and has remained here ever since and is presently a full prof. at Stanford.

Why she chose to stay here isn’t clear. The USA has picked up all sorts of brains from the various European upheavals and petty hatreds (see https://luysii.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/hitlers-gifts-and-russias-gift/). Given the present and past state of the middle East, I’ve always wondered if we’d scooped up any of the talent originating there. Of course, all chemists know of E. J. Corey, a Lebanese Christian, but he was born here 86 years ago. Elias Zerhouni former director of the NIH, was born in Algeria. That’s about all I know at this level of brilliance and achievement. I’m sure there are others that I’ve missed. Hopefully more such people are already here but haven’t established themselves as yet. This is possible, given that they come from a region without world class scientific institutions. Hitler singlehandedly destroyed the great German departments of Mathematics and Physics and the USA (and England) picked up the best of them.

Given the way things are going presently, the USA may shortly acquire a lot of Muslim brains from Europe. All it will take is a few random beheadings of Europeans in their home countries by the maniacs of ISIS and their ilk. Look what Europeans did to a people who did not physically threaten them during WWII. Lest you think this sort of behavior was a purely German aberration, try Googling Quisling and Marshal Petain. God knows what they’ll do when they are actually threatened. Remember, less than 20 years ago, the Europeans did nothing as Muslims were being slaughtered by Serbs in Kosovo.

Not to ignore the awful other side of the coin, the religious cleansing of the middle East of Christians by the larger Muslim community. The politically correct here have no love of Christianity. However, the continued passivity of American Christians is surprising. Whatever happened to “Onward Christian Soldiers” which seemed to be sung by all at least once a week in the grade school I attended 60+ years ago.

These are very scary times.