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May 9, 2002 Mathematicians in numbers at Concordia



Every year, graduate students in mathematics get together to listen to one another’s ideas, and to those of seasoned researchers in the field. It’s an opportunity to break out of the sometimes isolated world of scholarship, and show what they’re made of.

This year, for the first time, the ISM (Institut des sciences mathématiques) conference will be held at Concordia. As many as 80 graduate students are expected to attend, most of them from the Montreal-area universities, but with representation from Queen’s, Harvard and SUNY Stony Brook.

Four students from Concordia are organizing the event, and each has taken on an area of interest for participants. Wael Bahsoun will handle dynamical systems, K.T. Sathar will take care of physics, Kristina Loeschner will do algebra, and Manuel Morales will look after financial mathematics.

“Our main goal is to show that Concordia is not only a teaching institution, but a centre of research,” said Bahsoun. There are about 40 graduate students in mathematics at Concordia, and the faculty complement is very strong. Professor John McKay, who will address the conference on “the building blocks of symmetry,” is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and famous in his field, with a number of problems named after him. His work straddles mathematics and computer science.

The other featured speakers are Robert Devaney (Boston University), on “the exploding exponential: complex dynamics of entire functions”; Eric Bollt (USA Naval Academy) on “the transport and global control of deterministic and stochastic dynamical systems”; Niky Kamran (McGill), on “curvature and topology; the Bochner-Lichnerowicz technique”; and Philip Protter (Cornell), on “a mathematician’s introduction to financial asset pricing theory.”

Bahsoun said that there are plenty of challenges for the aspiring mathematical researcher, “open problems,” as they are called, that have not yet been solved to everyone’s satisfaction.

The Liemann hypothesis, left dangling since the late 19th century, is worth a $1 million prize to the scholar who proves or disproves it. Even Fermat’s Theorem, which was cracked a few years ago, is open to a cash prize for the mathematician who can bring the solution down from about 300 pages to a more manageable length.

These mathematical problems have real utility, Bahsoun added. Mathematics underlies our daily life, from medical advances to computers, weather forecasting and the stock market. In fact, financial mathematics is becoming a hot field, and some of Concordia’s graduate students would like to see it further developed at the university.

Mathematics is the mother of all the sciences, Bahsoun said, and it’s underappreciated. Go see A Beautiful Mind, he suggested, not to admire actor Russell Crowe, but to appreciate the genius of John Nash, the mathematician who is being depicted. Did he see it? he is asked. “The very first day,” he answered with a grin.

The Institut des sciences mathématiques conference takes place May 10-12. Information can be found at www.math.uqam.ca/ism/english/conference2002.html)