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.
Rajat Tandon, one of the main congress organizers, got up and gave a vote of thanks. I’ve written that he looked a bit like a guru, but more academic. I can’t quite remember what prompted that. Anyhow, the president then left, which meant we all had to stand again, and to listen once more to the national anthem, which once again ended with the curious modulation to the subdominant. And then the big doors opened, the white car was there — in fact, the arrival of the president was basically reversed.
Well, that’s it, you might think. But Lovász quickly got up to tell us that it was not it. He asked us to bear with him for some traditional functions, by which he meant things that were traditionally done at ICM opening ceremonies. He started by commemorating some notable mathematicians who had died since the last ICM: Henri Cartan (who, amazingly given that he was born in 1904, died only in 2008), Vladimir Arnold (1937-2010) and Kyosi Ito (the aforementioned Gauss prize winner, 1915-2008). Then Lovász “revealed” the programme committee (inverted commas because the names were in the programme booklet), which included Terence Tao amongst others. (I feel that on a mathematics blog it is appropriate to single him out, but if you are interested, then I’m pretty sure all the names can be found on the web by now.) I’ve mentioned a couple of things that he went on to announce: that Ingrid Daubechies will be the next president of the IMU and that the next ICM will be in Seoul. One other thing he told us was that the IMU will have a permanent office in Berlin. There has been some debate about whether there should be a permanent office at all, and if so where. We shall see how it works, but from a purely selfish point of view I’m glad it’s in Europe.
We were then told who would be giving the laudationes. We were told that there would be a one-off prize, called the Leelavati prize, for the popularization of mathematics, to be awarded at the closing ceremony. And we were reminded of the winners of the Abel and Ramanujan prizes since the last ICM.
A supremely bathetic moment followed: the opening of the Hyderabad Intelligencer. Lovász was handed a copy of this publication, wrapped up, and had to unwrap it in front of us. Now unwrapping is sometimes a very straightforward process, and sometimes it is a bit on the fiddly side. Unfortunately, this particular parcel fell into the latter category, the situation made worse by the fact that Lovász didn’t want to tear the paper. But eventually his need to finish the process overtook his wish to preserve what he described as “this beautiful paper” so he ripped it up more vigorously. He then showed us the back and the front (which we’d all seen, since we had each been given a copy in our kit bag), thereby finishing a ritual that I don’t remember from previous ICMs and wouldn’t mind not seeing at future ones.
Next up was Martin Grötschel, who wanted to tell us about the work of the IMU. I was expecting this to be very dull, but in fact it was extremely entertaining. How was that possible? Well, he talked for a while about the work that the IMU has done on citation statistics, and came up with the memorable quote that “Impact factors are not statistics but game theory.” There are some depressing anecdotes about the behaviour of some journals that explain this statement, though he didn’t tell us about them. He told us of the huge amount of work that has been going into the IMU web page, much of it voluntary. For example, now you can find a list of all speakers at all ICMs, and there is a new page (which I’ve mentioned briefly already) with all the proceedings of all the ICMs, in a searchable format. To demonstrate the latter, he got up the page and typed in Hilbert. That gave a list of Hilbert articles, the second of which was the famous 23-problems article. He clicked on that, and said, after a pause, “Now I have to subscribe to Adobe.” Unfortunately, he had tested the system on a different computer. But, miraculously, he sorted that problem out in real time (without subscribing to Adobe I’m pretty sure), though he also told us that he had a fake copy as back-up, and a scan of the first page of the famous paper was there for us to see (and the rest was available too). To get to this, type ICM on the IMU web page. (Update: here is a link to the relevant page. Many thanks to Kevin O’Bryant for finding it and letting me know about it — the page was harder to find than I realized.)
Finally, M. S. Raghunathan, who had been elected (by acclamation) president of the congress, got up for the closing of the opening ceremony. (That’s actually what they said. I suppose another of his duties will be the opening of the closing ceremony.) He gave a rather surprising speech, in that he opened with an apology to those who had had difficulties obtaining visas, and then … er … that was it and the opening ceremony was over. Or rather, all over bar the shouting, which consisted in the woman in green telling us that it was over and that we were free to go and find lunch.
That’s all I’ve got time for, as I’m off to hear Smirnov talking about his work. But it’s quite a good stopping point I suppose.