The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Jul 26, 2010

Fields! Fields!

In the last mathematical post, I mentioned fields and Deligne. The latter worked on the former, and subsequently won an eponymous award. And so it is time to turn our faces towards John Charles Fields who, by dint of much hard work and perseverance, managed to unify the worlds of mathematics that had been undone by war. The Fields Medal (named, obviously, after JCF) is now considered mathematics' highest honour. Awarded to the finest mathematicians under the age of 40, the next lot of medals will be announced at the 2010 International Congress of Mathematicians in a few weeks' time.

Now I have to say that I don't know too many practising mathematicians. Out of my undergraduate class of about 20 students, as far as I am aware, only three stuck to the field. One is an applied mathematician, another is a teacher, and a third is a pure mathematician. This is not to say that Indians have been laggards at this most intellectual of disciplines. Indeed, from ancient times onwards, the contributions of the Indians have been invaluable and manifold. Somehow, though, no Indian has ever won the Fields Medal.

That may be about to change. Indeed, I hope it does. The next ICM is to be held in Hyderabad, and promises to be a beaut. It is, in fact, only the third time the ICM has been held in Asia, and considering the event occurs every four years, it has been a long wait.

There's the usual politicking that happens behind closed doors, no doubt, about who should receive the Fields Medal. Previous awardees end up in the organisational committees and they might be, however unconsciously, biased towards their students. And so there's a preponderance of European and North American winners. After all, those are the great centres of mathematical research on the planet today.

A few years ago, I recall it was common knowledge in mathematical circles that the odds were on such luminaries as Kontsevich and Borcherds to win the award. And that is exactly what transpired. This time around, there are whispers that Manjul Bhargava might stand a good chance.

Even if he doesn't, we desis needn't despair.
The film The Lord of the Rings had to wait a while before winning a Best Picture Oscar. Bhargava is still quite young, and will remain eligible for the award at the next Congress as well. Properly, he is a Canadian, and will be the first Canadian to win if he does. But he is also of desi origin! And so we too await his ascendancy with bated breath.


Post a Comment