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[*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:

- Terence Tao [Chair from 15 Feb, 2019]
- Carlos Kenig [IMU President (from 1 Jan 2019),
*ex officio*] - Nalini Anantharaman
- Alexei Borodin
- Annalisa Buffa
- Irene Fonseca
- János Kollár
- Laci Lovász [Chair until 15 Feb, 2019]
- Terry Lyons
- Stephane Mallat
- Hiraku Nakajima
- Éva Tardos
- Peter Teichner
- Akshay Venkatesh
- Anna Wienhard

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:

- Are there suggestions to change the format of the ICM that would increase its value to the mathematical community?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.)

While talking mathematics with a postdoc here at UCLA (March Boedihardjo) we came across the following matrix problem which we managed to solve, but the proof was cute and the process of discovering it was fun, so I thought I would present the problem here as a puzzle without revealing the solution for now.

The problem involves word maps on a matrix group, which for sake of discussion we will take to be the special orthogonal group of real matrices (one of the smallest matrix groups that contains a copy of the free group, which incidentally is the key observation powering the Banach-Tarski paradox). Given any abstract word of two generators and their inverses (i.e., an element of the free group ), one can define the word map simply by substituting a pair of matrices in into these generators. For instance, if one has the word , then the corresponding word map is given by

for . Because contains a copy of the free group, we see the word map is non-trivial (not equal to the identity) if and only if the word itself is nontrivial.

Anyway, here is the problem:

Problem.Does there exist a sequence of non-trivial word maps that converge uniformly to the identity map?

To put it another way, given any , does there exist a non-trivial word such that for all , where denotes (say) the operator norm, and denotes the identity matrix in ?

As I said, I don’t want to spoil the fun of working out this problem, so I will leave it as a challenge. Readers are welcome to share their thoughts, partial solutions, or full solutions in the comments below.

This is the eleventh research thread of the Polymath15 project to upper bound the de Bruijn-Newman constant , continuing this post. Discussion of the project of a non-research nature can continue for now in the existing proposal thread. Progress will be summarised at this Polymath wiki page.

There are currently two strands of activity. One is writing up the paper describing the combination of theoretical and numerical results needed to obtain the new bound . The latest version of the writeup may be found here, in this directory. The theoretical side of things have mostly been written up; the main remaining tasks to do right now are

- giving a more detailed description and illustration of the two major numerical verifications, namely the barrier verification that establishes a zero-free region for for , and the Dirichlet series bound that establishes a zero-free region for ; and
- giving more detail on the conditional results assuming more numerical verification of RH.

Meanwhile, several of us have been exploring the behaviour of the zeroes of for negative ; this does not directly lead to any new progress on bounding (though there is a good chance that it may simplify the proof of ), but there have been some interesting numerical phenomena uncovered, as summarised in this set of slides. One phenomenon is that for large negative , many of the complex zeroes begin to organise themselves near the curves

(An example of the agreement between the zeroes and these curves may be found here.) We now have a (heuristic) theoretical explanation for this; we should have an approximation

in this region (where are defined in equations (11), (15), (17) of the writeup, and the above curves arise from (an approximation of) those locations where two adjacent terms , in this series have equal magnitude (with the other terms being of lower order).

However, we only have a partial explanation at present of the interesting behaviour of the real zeroes at negative t, for instance the surviving zeroes at extremely negative values of appear to lie on the curve where the quantity is close to a half-integer, where

The remaining zeroes exhibit a pattern in coordinates that is approximately 1-periodic in , where

A plot of the zeroes in these coordinates (somewhat truncated due to the numerical range) may be found here.

We do not yet have a total explanation of the phenomena seen in this picture. It appears that we have an approximation

where is the non-zero multiplier

and

The derivation of this formula may be found in this wiki page. However our initial attempts to simplify the above approximation further have proven to be somewhat inaccurate numerically (in particular giving an incorrect prediction for the location of zeroes, as seen in this picture). We are in the process of using numerics to try to resolve the discrepancies (see this page for some code and discussion).

This is the tenth “research” thread of the Polymath15 project to upper bound the de Bruijn-Newman constant , continuing this post. Discussion of the project of a non-research nature can continue for now in the existing proposal thread. Progress will be summarised at this Polymath wiki page.

Most of the progress since the last thread has been on the numerical side, in which the various techniques to numerically establish zero-free regions to the equation have been streamlined, made faster, and extended to larger heights than were previously possible. The best bound for now depends on the height to which one is willing to assume the Riemann hypothesis. Using the conservative verification up to height (slightly larger than) , which has been confirmed by independent work of Platt et al. and Gourdon-Demichel, the best bound remains at . Using the verification up to height claimed by Gourdon-Demichel, this improves slightly to , and if one assumes the Riemann hypothesis up to height the bound improves to , contingent on a numerical computation that is still underway. (See the table below the fold for more data of this form.) This is broadly consistent with the expectation that the bound on should be inversely proportional to the logarithm of the height at which the Riemann hypothesis is verified.

As progress seems to have stabilised, it may be time to transition to the writing phase of the Polymath15 project. (There are still some interesting research questions to pursue, such as numerically investigating the zeroes of for negative values of , but the writeup does not necessarily have to contain every single direction pursued in the project. If enough additional interesting findings are unearthed then one could always consider writing a second paper, for instance.

Below the fold is the detailed progress report on the numerics by Rudolph Dwars and Kalpesh Muchhal.

This is the ninth “research” thread of the Polymath15 project to upper bound the de Bruijn-Newman constant , continuing this post. Discussion of the project of a non-research nature can continue for now in the existing proposal thread. Progress will be summarised at this Polymath wiki page.

We have now tentatively improved the upper bound of the de Bruijn-Newman constant to . Among the technical improvements in our approach, we now are able to use Taylor expansions to efficiently compute the approximation to for many values of in a given region, thus speeding up the computations in the barrier considerably. Also, by using the heuristic that behaves somewhat like the partial Euler product , we were able to find a good location to place the barrier in which is larger than average, hence easier to keep away from zero.

The main remaining bottleneck is that of computing the Euler mollifier bounds that keep bounded away from zero for larger values of beyond the barrier. In going below we are beginning to need quite complicated mollifiers with somewhat poor tail behavior; we may be reaching the point where none of our bounds will succeed in keeping bounded away from zero, so we may be close to the natural limits of our methods.

Participants are also welcome to add any further summaries of the situation in the comments below.

Just a quick announcement that Dustin Mixon and Aubrey de Grey have just launched the Polymath16 project over at Dustin’s blog. The main goal of this project is to simplify the recent proof by Aubrey de Grey that the chromatic number of the unit distance graph of the plane is at least 5, thus making progress on the Hadwiger-Nelson problem. The current proof is computer assisted (in particular it requires one to control the possible 4-colorings of a certain graph with over a thousand vertices), but one of the aims of the project is to reduce the amount of computer assistance needed to verify the proof; already a number of such reductions have been found. See also this blog post where the polymath project was proposed, as well as the wiki page for the project. Non-technical discussion of the project will continue at the proposal blog post.

I am recording here some notes on a nice problem that Sorin Popa shared with me recently. To motivate the question, we begin with the basic observation that the differentiation operator and the position operator in one dimension formally obey the commutator equation

where is the identity operator and is the commutator. Among other things, this equation is fundamental in quantum mechanics, leading for instance to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

The operators are unbounded on spaces such as . One can ask whether the commutator equation (1) can be solved using bounded operators on a Hilbert space rather than unbounded ones. In the finite dimensional case when are just matrices for some , the answer is clearly negative, since the left-hand side of (1) has trace zero and the right-hand side does not. What about in infinite dimensions, when the trace is not available? As it turns out, the answer is still negative, as was first worked out by Wintner and Wielandt. A short proof can be given as follows. Suppose for contradiction that we can find bounded operators obeying (1). From (1) and an easy induction argument, we obtain the identity

for all natural numbers . From the triangle inequality, this implies that

Iterating this, we conclude that

for any . Bounding and then sending , we conclude that , which clearly contradicts (1). (Note the argument can be generalised without difficulty to the case when lie in a Banach algebra, rather than be bounded operators on a Hilbert space.)

It was observed by Popa that there is a quantitative version of this result:

Theorem 1Let such that

*Proof:* By multiplying by a suitable constant and dividing by the same constant, we may normalise . Write with . Then the same induction that established (2) now shows that

and hence by the triangle inequality

We divide by and sum to conclude that

giving the claim.

Again, the argument generalises easily to any Banach algebra. Popa then posed the question of whether the quantity can be replaced by any substantially larger function of , such as a polynomial in . As far as I know, the above simple bound has not been substantially improved.

In the opposite direction, one can ask for constructions of operators that are not too large in operator norm, such that is close to the identity. Again, one cannot do this in finite dimensions: has trace zero, so at least one of its eigenvalues must outside the disk , and therefore for any finite-dimensional matrices .

However, it was shown in 1965 by Brown and Pearcy that in infinite dimensions, one can construct operators with arbitrarily close to in operator norm (in fact one can prescribe any operator for as long as it is not equal to a non-zero multiple of the identity plus a compact operator). In the above paper of Popa, a quantitative version of the argument (based in part on some earlier work of Apostol and Zsido) was given as follows. The first step is to observe the following Hilbert space version of Hilbert’s hotel: in an infinite dimensional Hilbert space , one can locate isometries obeying the equation

where denotes the adjoint of . For instance, if has a countable orthonormal basis , one could set

and

where denotes the linear functional on . Observe that (4) is again impossible to satisfy in finite dimension , as the left-hand side must have trace while the right-hand side has trace .

Multiplying (4) on the left by and right by , or on the left by and right by , then gives

From (4), (5) we see in particular that, while we cannot express as a commutator of bounded operators, we can at least express it as the sum of two commutators:

We can rewrite this somewhat strangely as

and hence there exists a bounded operator such that

Moving now to the Banach algebra of matrices with entries in (which can be equivalently viewed as ), a short computation then gives the identity

for some bounded operator whose exact form will not be relevant for the argument. Now, by Neumann series (and the fact that have unit operator norm), we can find another bounded operator such that

and then another brief computation shows that

Thus we can express the operator as the commutator of two operators of norm . Conjugating by for any , we may then express as the commutator of two operators of norm . This shows that the right-hand side of (3) cannot be replaced with anything that blows up faster than as . Can one improve this bound further?

This is the seventh “research” thread of the Polymath15 project to upper bound the de Bruijn-Newman constant , continuing this post. Discussion of the project of a non-research nature can continue for now in the existing proposal thread. Progress will be summarised at this Polymath wiki page.

The most recent news is that we appear to have completed the verification that is free of zeroes when and , which implies that . For very large (for instance when the quantity is at least ) this can be done analytically; for medium values of (say when is between and ) this can be done by numerically evaluating a fast approximation to and using the argument principle in a rectangle; and most recently it appears that we can also handle small values of , in part due to some new, and significantly faster, numerical ways to evaluate in this range.

One obvious thing to do now is to experiment with lowering the parameters and and see what happens. However there are two other potential ways to bound which may also be numerically feasible. One approach is based on trying to exclude zeroes of in a region of the form , and for some moderately large (this acts as a “barrier” to prevent zeroes from flowing into the region at time , assuming that they were not already there at time ). This require significantly less numerical verification in the aspect, but more numerical verification in the aspect, so it is not yet clear whether this is a net win.

Another, rather different approach, is to study the evolution of statistics such as over time. One has fairly good control on such quantities at time zero, and their time derivative looks somewhat manageable, so one may be able to still have good control on this quantity at later times . However for this approach to work, one needs an effective version of the Riemann-von Mangoldt formula for , which at present is only available asymptotically (or at time ). This approach may be able to avoid almost all numerical computation, except for numerical verification of the Riemann hypothesis, for which we can appeal to existing literature.

Participants are also welcome to add any further summaries of the situation in the comments below.

This is the sixth “research” thread of the Polymath15 project to upper bound the de Bruijn-Newman constant , continuing this post. Discussion of the project of a non-research nature can continue for now in the existing proposal thread. Progress will be summarised at this Polymath wiki page.

The last two threads have been focused primarily on the test problem of showing that whenever . We have been able to prove this for most regimes of , or equivalently for most regimes of the natural number parameter . In many of these regimes, a certain explicit approximation to was used, together with a non-zero normalising factor ; see the wiki for definitions. The explicit upper bound

has been proven for certain explicit expressions (see here) depending on . In particular, if satisfies the inequality

then is non-vanishing thanks to the triangle inequality. (In principle we have an even more accurate approximation available, but it is looking like we will not need it for this test problem at least.)

We have explicit upper bounds on , , ; see this wiki page for details. They are tabulated in the range here. For , the upper bound for is monotone decreasing, and is in particular bounded by , while and are known to be bounded by and respectively (see here).

Meanwhile, the quantity can be lower bounded by

for certain explicit coefficients and an explicit complex number . Using the triangle inequality to lower bound this by

we can obtain a lower bound of for , which settles the test problem in this regime. One can get more efficient lower bounds by multiplying both Dirichlet series by a suitable Euler product mollifier; we have found for to be good choices to get a variety of further lower bounds depending only on , see this table and this wiki page. Comparing this against our tabulated upper bounds for the error terms we can handle the range .

In the range , we have been able to obtain a suitable lower bound (where exceeds the upper bound for ) by numerically evaluating at a mesh of points for each choice of , with the mesh spacing being adaptive and determined by and an upper bound for the derivative of ; the data is available here.

This leaves the final range (roughly corresponding to ). Here we can numerically evaluate to high accuracy at a fine mesh (see the data here), but to fill in the mesh we need good upper bounds on . It seems that we can get reasonable estimates using some contour shifting from the original definition of (see here). We are close to finishing off this remaining region and thus solving the toy problem.

Beyond this, we need to figure out how to show that for as well. General theory lets one do this for , leaving the region . The analytic theory that handles and should also handle this region; for presumably the argument principle will become relevant.

The full argument also needs to be streamlined and organised; right now it sprawls over many wiki pages and github code files. (A very preliminary writeup attempt has begun here). We should also see if there is much hope of extending the methods to push much beyond the bound of that we would get from the above calculations. This would also be a good time to start discussing whether to move to the writing phase of the project, or whether there are still fruitful research directions for the project to explore.

Participants are also welcome to add any further summaries of the situation in the comments below.

This is the fifth “research” thread of the Polymath15 project to upper bound the de Bruijn-Newman constant , continuing this post. Discussion of the project of a non-research nature can continue for now in the existing proposal thread. Progress will be summarised at this Polymath wiki page.

We have almost finished off the test problem of showing that whenever . We have two useful approximations for , which we have denoted and , and a normalising quantity that is asymptotically equal to the above expressions; see the wiki page for definitions. In practice, the approximation seems to be accurate within about one or two significant figures, whilst the approximation is accurate to about three or four. We have an effective upper bound

where the expressions are quite small in practice ( is typically about two orders of magnitude smaller than the main term once is moderately large, and the error terms are even smaller). See this page for details. In principle we could also obtain an effective upper bound for (the term would be replaced by something smaller).

The ratio takes the form of a difference of two Dirichlet series, where is a phase whose value is explicit but perhaps not terribly important, and the coefficients are explicit and relatively simple ( is , and is approximately ). To bound this away from zero, we have found it advantageous to mollify this difference by multiplying by an Euler product to cancel much of the initial oscillation; also one can take advantage of the fact that the are real and the are (approximately) real. See this page for details. The upshot is that we seem to be getting good lower bounds for the size of this difference of Dirichlet series starting from about or so. The error terms are already quite small by this stage, so we should soon be able to rigorously keep from vanishing at this point. We also have a scheme for lower bounding the difference of Dirichlet series below this range, though it is not clear at present how far we can continue this before the error terms become unmanageable. For very small we may have to explore some faster ways to compute the expression , which is still difficult to compute directly with high accuracy. One will also need to bound the somewhat unwieldy expressions by something more manageable. For instance, right now these quantities depend on the continuous variable ; it would be preferable to have a quantity that depends only on the parameter , as this could be computed numerically for all in the remaining range of interest quite quickly.

As before, any other mathematical discussion related to the project is also welcome here, for instance any summaries of previous discussion that was not covered in this post.

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