By Olga Baklitskaya-Kameneva
The last week of September a group of EUSJA journalists attended the Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF). The history of the HLF, where 200 young researchers from 49 different countries met with 39 Laureates of Turing Award, Fields Medal, Abel Prize and Nevanlinna Prize, just begins. The Organizers of the Forum did their best to make the event really interesting and prepared an extensive program in and around Heidelberg. The credo was announced by Dr. Klaus Tschira, a founder of the Klaus Tschira Foundation and inspirer of the HLF: “Mathematics as one of the oldest and computer science as a very new scientific discipline provide the grounds of today’s highly engineered and modern life, and belong to our culture. Their social relevance will continue to grow”. He has started this for the first time and plans for it to be an annual event.
Of course, it was a fantastic chance not only for the young researchers to get the privilege to attend the Forum but also for the science journalists. You are in the right place at the right time – this idea comes up to you, when you see so many famous outstanding scientists and even can listen to their talks on their award-winning research. The lectures covered a wide range of different topics. For example, one of the first talks has been given by Ray Reddy, one of the pioneers in the artificial intelligence. He received the Turing Award as the highest distinction in computer science in 1994. His topic about who invented computing was a very interesting and unexpected look backward. Or can you imagine how billiard balls on a frictionless surface would bounce off? The answer knows the Fields Medalist Curtis T. McMullen who used computer programs to find unusual structures and patterns. He showed this presentation as a gateway to current research of complex surfaces and spaces. Stephen Smale (Fields Medal) talked about award-winning algorithms that can predict the folding of proteins. His main idea is to introduce a geometry on the space of protein.
Surprisingly, Leslie Valiant (Nevanlinna Prize and Turing Award) explained how computational learning theory with Darwinian evolution within a computational framework can be applied to determine life. Is our universe deterministic or probabilistic? Awi Wigderson, received the Nevanlinna Prize, talked about difference between these two worlds, using his theory of “pseudorandomness”. Michael Francis Atiyah (Fields Medal and Abel Prize) during his talk gave some advice to young mathematicians. His words are useful for everyone: always be curious, don’t get disheartened in your early years, manage how much you get sidetracked, collaboration is important. One could tell more about all laureates, their lectures really were impressive, but you may watch them on the HLF website (http://www.heidelberg-laureate-forum.org/).
What about young researchers? The atmosphere during the Forum was quite open. The organizers have prepared for them visits to local institutes and companies, workshops and panel discussions, giving them an opportunity to gain inspiration and exchange ideas. Here is the mix of their impressions: “How approachable all of laureates were!”, “Great experience!”, “I feel extremely lucky to be participating”, “The HLF provided the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”, “It was both inspiring and comforting to hear that many of the Laureates were starting to turn their interests to apply mathematical and computational approaches to disciplines”, “That was an enormous step towards a successful career, fruitful for my own ambitions and dreams”.
And we, journalists, have got another opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere of pure science and communicate to current and future geniuses and, of course, colleagues (thanks to the organizers!). I met my EUSJA friends, many local journalists and colleagues from different countries – the USA, Australia, even from Philippines. We were welcome to take part in the press conferences and interview some of the laureates. The famous French mathematician Cédric Villani, who received the Fields medal for his work on Landau damping and the Boltzmann equation in 2010, had a mini press conference. Most of the reporters like to interview him not only for his romantic poet looking and the large spider brooch he always wears, he is one of the inspiring popularizers of mathematics.
I was lucky to interview the Russian mathematician Vladimir Voevodsky from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton whose talk was considered as a “Voevodsky’s mathematical revolution” at the forum. He told about Univalent Foundations of Mathematics. In spite of this inscrutable title it means that Voevodsky with collaborators are developing “software” that mathematicians can use in their research to proof different theories.
During the event I heard not once how important are for mathematicians the beauty and the «elegance» of any proof, where the different parts mesh together in harmony, like music. And I would say that musical part of the HLF was brilliant: the eccentric saxophone quartet, the jazz concert and, of course, Mozartiana con spirito scientifico, but that’s another story.
The Heidelberg Laureate Forum is the result of a joint initiative of the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies and the Klaus Tschira Stiftung. The latter has been a supporter of the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting for many years, and the experience of this event spawned the idea of creating something similar for the two crucial scientific disciplines Mathematics and Computer Science. The Forum was organized by the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation in cooperation with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the international Mathematical Union (IMU) and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.