Archive for August 20th, 2010

ICM2010 — Lindenstrauss laudatio

August 20, 2010

After the unceremonial closing of the opening ceremony it was lunch time. I soon found myself in the first of what would turn out to be many queues of the kind where the optimal strategy is far from obvious but obviously not very good. One of the army of volunteers (the males of whom were wearing smart purple Indian shirts — collarless and going down to the thigh) told me to go up a floor, so I did, and I found a number of parallel queues. There was also a borderline-legitimate queuelet round to the side, and I joined that, hoping that it was legitimate enough not to annoy people and not too far to the side to get the attention of the people serving lunch. Lunch was basically an Indian takeaway — a choice of various Indian dishes served in an aluminium tray and a white cardboard lid that was rectangular apart from being curved off at the vertices, and held in place by a fold at the top of the aluminium. (I’m not certain it was aluminium but that’s my best guess.) After about 15 minutes of anxious waiting I was in a position to ask for lamb biryani, which I had also had for breakfast. It cost me two coupons from my kit bag, and came with a small pot of yoghurt, and the option of a fierce looking chutney, which I took. (I was about to say “took with relish” but then realized that to some people that would be ambiguous.) I was told that if I wanted to sit down I could go into the gallery of the main hall, so I did. A table would have been nice, but I could manage without.

The lamb biryani was slightly disappointing in that it had just one piece of lamb which, though large, was about 80% bone. That left quite a lot of rice to get through, and I was glad of the opportunity to spice it up with the chutney. For what it’s worth, we were provided with small wooden disposable spoons and forks to eat with. The chutney passed a basic test: it made my nose run.

ICM2010 — Opening ceremony, continued

August 20, 2010

I’d got up to the awarding of the Nevanlinna prize to Dan Spielman. Next up was the Gauss prize. Yves Meyer came up on stage with a dark blue jacket and dark grey trousers (both dark enough that you had to look hard to see that they didn’t form a suit). We were told that he had “created a new way of multiresolution thinking,” a conclusion that would be hard to dispute. He had a grey beard and moustache and a vigorous handshake. This was the second ever Gauss prize, the first going to Ito in Madrid in 2006.

An even newer prize followed, the first award of the new Chern prize for lifetime achievement. This is an interesting prize in that it comes with a lot of money — half a million dollars (some of it from Chern’s family and some from the Simons foundation, about which more later) — which is split 50-50 between the recipient and good mathematical causes nominated by the recipient. I wonder if we will get to hear how Nirenberg decides to spend the charitable half. (Update: I’ve just discovered on the web that he’s giving it to the Courant Institute.) Nirenberg had white hair, beard and moustache, and did not smile.

After that was all over, the president (of India, not the IMU) told us once again what the ICM was, but after that unpromising start she moved into a speech about India’s mathematical heritage and various other topics, all discussed in a way that made it clear that somebody — I presume not her — knew what they were talking about. She told us of an old Sanskrit saying, “Mathematics stands at the helm of all sciences.” I think I prefer the “queen of” metaphor that is more prevalent in the west. She told us that the concept of zero originated in India, and that calculus was anticipated in India in the 15th century. I wondered before the opening ceremony started how many times Ramanujan would be mentioned. There was a mention here, and a few others, but I forgot to count. At one point the president referred to India’s rich cultural heritage twice in successive sentences. There was plenty about the impact of mathematics in technology, economics, cultural life — you get the idea. But this was a pretty good speech as such things go, and the president seemed intelligent, and young for her years.


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