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Fields Medal Symposium: showcasing the magic of math

Professor Edward Bierstone, director of the Fields Institute (photo by Richard Cerezo)

In 1932, Canadian mathematician and University of Toronto Professor John Charles Fields established the Fields Medal to create an award for Mathematics comparable to a Nobel Prize, and to encourage younger mathematicians.

Today it is commonly viewed as the greatest honour a mathematician can receive.

This year,the Fields Institute is launching the Fields Medal Symposium at U of T to recognize the efforts of previous Fields Medal recipients and to help promote the field of mathematics internationally. The first symposium, which runs from October 15 to October 18, highlights the work of Ngô Bào Châu of the University of Chicago – a Fields Medal recipient in 2010.

“We are hoping to make a difference to the science itself,” said U of T Professor Edward Bierstone, director of the Fields Institute. “By bringing together brilliant researchers, including the honoured medallist, as well as students, we hope that the symposium will generate new ideas to help take the area to new frontiers, and will inspire a new generation of brilliant thinkers.”

This year coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Fields Institute which was founded in 1992 at the University of Waterloo and relocated to U of T in 1995.

“We want to raise public awareness of the importance of developing mathematical talent, and of the Fields Medal,” said Bierstone. “The Fields Institute is also named after J.C. Fields, and the inaugural Symposium is the highlight of its 20th Anniversary Year -- the Symposium should be a tremendous boost to its research and training missions.”

U of T Professor James Arthur, one of the distinguished speakers at the symposium, is looking forward to encountering mathematicians and physicists with diverse outlooks at the event.

“We hope that scientists in the audience will see new and fundamental relations among the different sides of this vast area that might lead to the next great breakthroughs,” Arthur said.

The symposium also includes a special program for high-school and undergraduate students at the Fields Institute on Tuesday evening, said Bierstone. The program will feature two short mathematical talks: Surfing with Wavelets, by Ingrid Daubechies (professor at Duke University and president of the International Mathematical Union) and Symmetry in Mathematics and Physics, by Edward Frenkel, professor at the University of California, Berkeley and filmmaker. There will be a free-wheeling panel discussion moderated by Munk School of Global Affairs graduate student Zach Paikin, with panellists Daubechies, Frenkel, Ngô and well-known textbook author James Stewart.

“The scientific program will include lectures by brilliant mathematical scientists that are both at the frontiers of fast-developing areas and, at the same time, accessible to students and a general scientific audience,” Bierstone said. “I am looking forward to the interaction between the invited mathematicians, the public figures and the young people who will all take part in the activities of the public opening Monday evening, and the panel discussion for students Tuesday evening.”

Bierstone’s anticipation is shared by Arthur, who points out that Ngô solved a problem that had confounded mathematicians for 35 years. 

“His proof was voted one of Time magazine's top ten scientific discoveries of the year 2009," Arthur said.

The Fields Medal Symposium takes place October 15 – 18, 2012 and will be webcast online for viewers across the globe.