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In the fall quarter (starting Sep 27) I will be teaching a graduate course on analytic prime number theory.  This will be similar to a graduate course I taught in 2015, and in particular will reuse several of the lecture notes from that course, though it will also incorporate some new material (and omit some material covered in the previous course, to compensate).  I anticipate covering the following topics:

  1. Elementary multiplicative number theory
  2. Complex-analytic multiplicative number theory
  3. The entropy decrement argument
  4. Bounds for exponential sums
  5. Zero density theorems
  6. Halasz’s theorem and the Matomaki-Radziwill theorem
  7. The circle method
  8. (If time permits) Chowla’s conjecture and the Erdos discrepancy problem

Lecture notes for topics 3, 6, and 8 will be forthcoming.

 

The AMS and MAA have recently published (and made available online) a collection of essays entitled “Living Proof: Stories of Resilience Along the Mathematical Journey”.  Each author contributes a story of how they encountered some internal or external difficulty in advancing their mathematical career, and how they were able to deal with such difficulties.  I myself have contributed one of these essays; I was initially somewhat surprised when I was approached for a contribution, as my career trajectory has been somewhat of an outlier, and I have been very fortunate to not experience to the same extent many of the obstacles that other contributors write about in this text.    Nevertheless there was a turning point in my career that I write about here during my graduate years, when I found that the improvised and poorly disciplined study habits that were able to get me into graduate school due to an over-reliance on raw mathematical ability were completely inadequate to handle the graduate qualifying exam.  With a combination of an astute advisor and some sheer luck, I was able to pass the exam and finally develop a more sustainable approach to learning and doing mathematics, but it could easily have gone quite differently.  (My 20 25-year old writeup of this examination, complete with spelling errors, may be found here.)

 

 

Just a short note to point out that submissions to the 2019 Breakthrough Junior Challenge are now open until June 15.  Students ages 13 to 18 from countries across the globe are invited to create and submit original videos (3:00 minutes in length maximum) that bring to life a concept or theory in the life sciences, physics or mathematics. The submissions are judged on the student’s ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in engaging, illuminating, and imaginative ways. The Challenge is organized by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, in partnership with Khan Academy, National Geographic, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.  The winner of the challenge recieves a $250K college scholarship, with an addition $50K prize to the winner’s maths or science teacher, and a $100K lab for the student’s school.  (This year I will be on the selection committee for this challenge.)

 

Just a brief announcement that the AMS is now accepting (until June 30) nominations for the 2020 Joseph L. Doob Prize, which recognizes a single, relatively recent, outstanding research book that makes a seminal contribution to the research literature, reflects the highest standards of research exposition, and promises to have a deep and long-term impact in its area. The book must have been published within the six calendar years preceding the year in which it is nominated. Books may be nominated by members of the Society, by members of the selection committee, by members of AMS editorial committees, or by publishers.  (I am currently on the committee for this prize.)  A list of previous winners may be found here.  The nomination procedure may be found at the bottom of this page.

Now that Google Plus is closing, the brief announcements that I used to post over there will now be migrated over to this blog.  (Some people have suggested other platforms for this also, such as Twitter, but I think for now I can use my existing blog to accommodate these sorts of short posts.)

  1. The NSF-CBMS regional research conferences are now requesting proposals for the 2020 conference series.  (I was the principal lecturer for one of these conferences back in 2005; it was a very intensive experience, but quite enjoyable, and I am quite pleased with the book that resulted from it.)
  2. The awardees for the Sloan Fellowships for 2019 have now been announced.  (I was on the committee for the mathematics awards.  For the usual reasons involving the confidentiality of letters of reference and other sensitive information, I will be unfortunately be unable to answer any specific questions about our committee deliberations.)

Just a quick post to advertise two upcoming events sponsored by institutions I am affiliated with:

  1. The 2019 National Math Festival will be held in Washington D.C. on May 4 (together with some satellite events at other US cities).  This festival will have numerous games, events, films, and other activities, which are all free and open to the public.  (I am on the board of trustees of MSRI, which is one of the sponsors of the festival.)
  2. The Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) is now accepting applications for its second Industrial Short Course for May 16-17 2019, with the topic of “Deep Learning and the Latest AI Algorithms“.  (I serve on the Scientific Advisory Board of this institute.)  This is an intensive course (in particular requiring active participation) aimed at industrial mathematicians involving both the theory and practice of deep learning and neural networks, taught by Xavier Bresson.   (Note: space is very limited, and there is also a registration fee of $2,000 for this course, which is expected to be in high demand.)

[This post is collectively authored by the ICM structure committee, whom I am currently chairing – T.]

The International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) is widely considered to be the premier conference for mathematicians.  It is held every four years; for instance, the 2018 ICM was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the 2022 ICM is to be held in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  The most high-profile event at the ICM is the awarding of the 10 or so prizes of the International Mathematical Union (IMU) such as the Fields Medal, and the lectures by the prize laureates; but there are also approximately twenty plenary lectures from leading experts across all mathematical disciplines, several public lectures of a less technical nature, about 180 more specialised invited lectures divided into about twenty section panels, each corresponding to a mathematical field (or range of fields), as well as various outreach and social activities, exhibits and satellite programs, and meetings of the IMU General Assembly; see for instance the program for the 2018 ICM for a sample schedule.  In addition to these official events, the ICM also provides more informal networking opportunities, in particular allowing mathematicians at all stages of career, and from all backgrounds and nationalities, to interact with each other.

For each Congress, a Program Committee (together with subcommittees for each section) is entrusted with the task of selecting who will give the lectures of the ICM (excluding the lectures by prize laureates, which are selected by separate prize committees); they also have decided how to appropriately subdivide the entire field of mathematics into sections.   Given the prestigious nature of invitations from the ICM to present a lecture, this has been an important and challenging task, but one for which past Program Committees have managed to fulfill in a largely satisfactory fashion.

Nevertheless, in the last few years there has been substantial discussion regarding ways in which the process for structuring the ICM and inviting lecturers could be further improved, for instance to reflect the fact that the distribution of mathematics across various fields has evolved over time.   At the 2018 ICM General Assembly meeting in Rio de Janeiro, a resolution was adopted to create a new Structure Committee to take on some of the responsibilities previously delegated to the Program Committee, focusing specifically on the structure of the scientific program.  On the other hand, the Structure Committee is not involved with the format for prize lectures, the selection of prize laureates, or the selection of plenary and sectional lecturers; these tasks are instead the responsibilities of other committees (the local Organizing Committee, the prize committees, and the Program Committee respectively).

The first Structure Committee was constituted on 1 Jan 2019, with the following members:

As one of our first actions, we on the committee are using this blog post to solicit input from the mathematical community regarding the topics within our remit.  Among the specific questions (in no particular order) for which we seek comments are the following:

  1. Are there suggestions to change the format of the ICM that would increase its value to the mathematical community?
  2. Are there suggestions to change the format of the ICM that would encourage greater participation and interest in attending, particularly with regards to junior researchers and mathematicians from developing countries?
  3. What is the correct balance between research and exposition in the lectures?  For instance, how strongly should one emphasize the importance of good exposition when selecting plenary and sectional speakers?  Should there be “Bourbaki style” expository talks presenting work not necessarily authored by the speaker?
  4. Is the balance between plenary talks, sectional talks, and public talks at an optimal level?  There is only a finite amount of space in the calendar, so any increase in the number or length of one of these types of talks will come at the expense of another.
  5. The ICM is generally perceived to be more important to pure mathematics than to applied mathematics.  In what ways can the ICM be made more relevant and attractive to applied mathematicians, or should one not try to do so?
  6. Are there structural barriers that cause certain areas or styles of mathematics (such as applied or interdisciplinary mathematics) or certain groups of mathematicians to be under-represented at the ICM?  What, if anything, can be done to mitigate these barriers?

Of course, we do not expect these complex and difficult questions to be resolved within this blog post, and debating these and other issues would likely be a major component of our internal committee discussions.  Nevertheless, we would value constructive comments towards the above questions (or on other topics within the scope of our committee) to help inform these subsequent discussions.  We therefore welcome and invite such commentary, either as responses to this blog post, or sent privately to one of the members of our committee.  We would also be interested in having readers share their personal experiences at past congresses, and how it compares with other major conferences of this type.   (But in order to keep the discussion focused and constructive, we request that comments here refrain from discussing topics that are out of the scope of this committee, such as suggesting specific potential speakers for the next congress, which is a task instead for the 2022 ICM Program Committee.)

I have just learned that Jean Bourgain passed away last week in Belgium, aged 64, after a prolonged battle with cancer.  He and Eli Stein were the two mathematicians who most influenced my early career; it is something of a shock to find out that they are now both gone, having died within a few days of each other.

Like Eli, Jean remained highly active mathematically, even after his cancer diagnosis.  Here is a video profile of him by National Geographic, on the occasion of his 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics, doing a surprisingly good job of describing in lay terms the sort of mathematical work he did:

 

When I was a graduate student in Princeton, Tom Wolff came and gave a course on recent progress on the restriction and Kakeya conjectures, starting from the breakthrough work of Jean Bourgain in a now famous 1991 paper in Geom. Func. Anal..  I struggled with that paper for many months; it was by far the most difficult paper I had to read as a graduate student, as Jean would focus on the most essential components of an argument, treating more secondary details (such as rigorously formalising the uncertainty principle) in very brief sentences.  This image of my own annotated photocopy of this article may help convey some of the frustration I had when first going through it:

Eventually, though, and with the help of Eli Stein and Tom Wolff, I managed to decode the steps which had mystified me – and my impression of the paper reversed completely.  I began to realise that Jean had a certain collection of tools, heuristics, and principles that he regarded as “basic”, such as dyadic decomposition and the uncertainty principle, and by working “modulo” these tools (that is, by regarding any step consisting solely of application of these tools as trivial), one could proceed much more rapidly and efficiently.  By reading through Jean’s papers, I was able to add these tools to my own “basic” toolkit, which then became a fundamental starting point for much of my own research.  Indeed, a large fraction of my early work could be summarised as “take one of Jean’s papers, understand the techniques used there, and try to improve upon the final results a bit”.  In time, I started looking forward to reading the latest paper of Jean.  I remember being particularly impressed by his 1999 JAMS paper on global solutions of the energy-critical nonlinear Schrodinger equation for spherically symmetric data.  It’s hard to describe (especially in lay terms) the experience of reading through (and finally absorbing) the sections of this paper one by one; the best analogy I can come up with would be watching an expert video game player nimbly navigate his or her way through increasingly difficult levels of some video game, with the end of each level (or section) culminating in a fight with a huge “boss” that was eventually dispatched using an array of special weapons that the player happened to have at hand.  (I would eventually end up spending two years with four other coauthors trying to remove that spherical symmetry assumption; we did finally succeed, but it was and still is one of the most difficult projects I have been involved in.)

While I was a graduate student at Princeton, Jean worked at the Institute for Advanced Study which was just a mile away.  But I never actually had the courage to set up an appointment with him (which, back then, would be more likely done in person or by phone rather than by email). I remember once actually walking to the Institute and standing outside his office door, wondering if I dared knock on it to introduce myself.  (In the end I lost my nerve and walked back to the University.)

I think eventually Tom Wolff introduced the two of us to each other during one of Jean’s visits to Tom at Caltech (though I had previously seen Jean give a number of lectures at various places).  I had heard that in his younger years Jean had quite the competitive streak; however, when I met him, he was extremely generous with his ideas, and he had a way of condensing even the most difficult arguments to a few extremely information-dense sentences that captured the essence of the matter, which I invariably found to be particularly insightful (once I had finally managed to understand it).  He still retained a certain amount of cocky self-confidence though.  I remember posing to him (some time in early 2002, I think) a problem Tom Wolff had once shared with me about trying to prove what is now known as a sum-product estimate for subsets of a finite field of prime order, and telling him that Nets Katz and I would be able to use this estimate for several applications to Kakeya-type problems.  His initial reaction was to say that this estimate should easily follow from a Fourier analytic method, and promised me a proof the following morning.  The next day he came up to me and admitted that the problem was more interesting than he had initially expected, and that he would continue to think about it.  That was all I heard from him for several months; but one day I received a two-page fax from Jean with a beautiful hand-written proof of the sum-product estimate, which eventually became our joint paper with Nets on the subject (and the only paper I ended up writing with Jean).  Sadly, the actual fax itself has been lost despite several attempts from various parties to retrieve a copy, but a LaTeX version of the fax, typed up by Jean’s tireless assistant Elly Gustafsson, can be seen here.

About three years ago, Jean was diagnosed with cancer and began a fairly aggressive treatment.  Nevertheless he remained extraordinarily productive mathematically, authoring over thirty papers in the last three years, including such breakthrough results as his solution of the Vinogradov conjecture with Guth and Demeter, or his short note on the Schrodinger maximal function and his paper with Mirek, Stein, and Wróbel on dimension-free estimates for the Hardy-Littlewood maximal function, both of which made progress on problems that had been stuck for over a decade.  In May of 2016 I helped organise, and then attended, a conference at the IAS celebrating Jean’s work and impact; by then Jean was not able to easily travel to attend, but he gave a superb special lecture, not announced on the original schedule, via videoconference that was certainly one of the highlights of the meeting.  (UPDATE: a video of his talk is available here.  Thanks to Brad Rodgers for the link.)

I last met Jean in person in November of 2016, at the award ceremony for his Breakthrough Prize, though we had some email and phone conversations after that date.  Here he is with me and Richard Taylor at that event (demonstrating, among other things, that he wears a tuxedo much better than I do):

Jean was a truly remarkable person and mathematician.  Certainly the world of analysis is poorer with his passing.

[UPDATE, Dec 31: Here is the initial IAS obituary notice for Jean.]

[UPDATE, Jan 3: See also this MathOverflow question “Jean Bourgain’s Relatively Lesser Known Significant Contributions”.]

I was deeply saddened to learn that Elias Stein died yesterday, aged 87.

I have talked about some of Eli’s older mathematical work in these blog posts.  He continued to be quite active mathematically in recent years, for instance finishing six papers (with various co-authors including Jean Bourgain, Mariusz Mirek, Błażej Wróbel, and Pavel Zorin-Kranich) in just this year alone.  I last met him at Wrocław, Poland last September for a conference in his honour; he was in good health (and good spirits) then.   Here is a picture of Eli together with several of his students (including myself) who were at that meeting (taken from the conference web site):

S6301678 Eli was an amazingly effective advisor; throughout my graduate studies I think he never had fewer than five graduate students, and there was often a line outside his door when he was meeting with students such as myself.   (The Mathematics Geneaology Project lists 52 students of Eli, but if anything this is an under-estimate.)  My weekly meetings with Eli would tend to go something like this: I would report on all the many different things I had tried over the past week, without much success, to solve my current research problem; Eli would listen patiently to everything I said, concentrate for a moment, and then go over to his filing cabinet and fish out a preprint to hand to me, saying “I think the authors in this paper encountered similar problems and resolved it using Method X”.  I would then go back to my office and read the preprint, and indeed they had faced something similar and I could often adapt the techniques there to resolve my immediate obstacles (only to encounter further ones for the next week, but that’s the way research tends to go, especially as a graduate student).  Amongst other things, these meetings impressed upon me the value of mathematical experience, by being able to make more key progress on a problem in a handful of minutes than I was able to accomplish in a whole week.  (There is a well known story about the famous engineer Charles Steinmetz fixing a broken piece of machinery by making a chalk mark; my meetings with Eli often had a similar feel to them.)

Eli’s lectures were always masterpieces of clarity.  In one hour, he would set up a theorem, motivate it, explain the strategy, and execute it flawlessly; even after twenty years of teaching my own classes, I have yet to figure out his secret of somehow always being able to arrive at the natural finale of a mathematical presentation at the end of each hour without having to improvise at least a little bit halfway during the lecture.  The clear and self-contained nature of his lectures (and his many books) were a large reason why I decided to specialise as a graduate student in harmonic analysis (though I would eventually return to other interests, such as analytic number theory, many years after my graduate studies).

Looking back at my time with Eli, I now realise that he was extraordinarily patient and understanding with the brash and naive teenager he had to meet with every week.  A key turning point in my own career came after my oral qualifying exams, in which I very nearly failed due to my overconfidence and lack of preparation, particularly in my chosen specialty of harmonic analysis.  After the exam, he sat down with me and told me, as gently and diplomatically as possible, that my performance was a disappointment, and that I seriously needed to solidify my mathematical knowledge.  This turned out to be exactly what I needed to hear; I got motivated to actually work properly so as not to disappoint my advisor again.

So many of us in the field of harmonic analysis were connected to Eli in one way or another; the field always felt to me like a large extended family, with Eli as one of the patriarchs.  He will be greatly missed.

[UPDATE: Here is Princeton’s obituary for Elias Stein.]

In the last week or so there has been some discussion on the internet about a paper (initially authored by Hill and Tabachnikov) that was initially accepted for publication in the Mathematical Intelligencer, but with the editor-in-chief of that journal later deciding against publication; the paper, in significantly revised form (and now authored solely by Hill), was then quickly accepted by one of the editors in the New York Journal of Mathematics, but then was removed from publication after objections from several members on the editorial board of NYJM that the paper had not been properly refereed or was within the scope of the journal; see this statement by Benson Farb, who at the time was on that board, for more details.  Some further discussion of this incident may be found on Tim Gowers’ blog; the most recent version of the paper, as well as a number of prior revisions, are still available on the arXiv here.

For whatever reason, some of the discussion online has focused on the role of Amie Wilkinson, a mathematician from the University of Chicago (and who, incidentally, was a recent speaker here at UCLA in our Distinguished Lecture Series), who wrote an email to the editor-in-chief of the Intelligencer raising some concerns about the content of the paper and suggesting that it be published alongside commentary from other experts in the field.  (This, by the way, is not uncommon practice when dealing with a potentially provocative publication in one field by authors coming from a different field; for instance, when Emmanuel Candès and I published a paper in the Annals of Statistics introducing what we called the “Dantzig selector”, the Annals solicited a number of articles discussing the selector from prominent statisticians, and then invited us to submit a rejoinder.)    It seems that the editors of the Intelligencer decided instead to reject the paper.  The paper then had a complicated interaction with NYJM, but, as stated by Wilkinson in her recent statement on this matter as well as by Farb, this was done without any involvement from Wilkinson.  (It is true that Farb happens to also be Wilkinson’s husband, but I see no reason to doubt their statements on this matter.)

I have not interacted much with the Intelligencer, but I have published a few papers with NYJM over the years; it is an early example of a quality “diamond open access” mathematics journal.  It seems that this incident may have uncovered some issues with their editorial procedure for reviewing and accepting papers, but I am hopeful that they can be addressed to avoid this sort of event occurring again.

 

 

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