Wednesday, August 13, 2014

First female Fields medalist

Off-topic: If you want to learn how – as a conference speaker – you should refer to a very nice blog post in a way that is both accurate and entertaining for the audience, see Suvrat Raju's Strings 2014 talk, 25:40-25:50. Thanks, Suvrat. ;-) Some of the people are laughing because by mentioning "a very nice blog post", Suvrat had offered them too little information – approximately by \(k\ln(6,000)\) because as of today, there are 6,000 very nice TRF blog posts. ;-)
Using the normal distribution, La Griffe du Lion has predicted a female winner of the Fields medal, the most well-known prize in mathematics, to surface once in 103 years. If you have won a Fields medal yourself, you may calculate that four winners are announced every 4 years which means that it's \(4/4=\) one winner per year in average.

After 70 years of the award, we have the first female Fields medalist. Maryam Mirzakhani is Persian, was born in Tehran in 1977, was trained at Harvard and received her PhD in 2004, and is currently a Stanford professor.

Looking at the list of papers, I wouldn't be able to recognize them from some above-average papers in mathematics – but I don't belong to that culture. But she has surely published an impressive amount of papers.

No one cares about men but
The other three winners this year were Artur Avila of France, Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University in New Jersey, and Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick in Britain.
Maryam has been my fellow Harvard Junior Fellow for some time – I think that we even overlapped for a whole year, 2003-2004 – but my memory is limited. I remember her first name, however. Let me admit that I only realized that an hour after I posted the original version of this blog post.

Congratulations to the winners and especially Maryam!


  1. I'm here to point that Artur Ávila is brazilian and studied in Brazil most of the time. Nowadays he works both at IMPA (his alma mater) and CNRS.

  2. Courageous CowardAug 13, 2014, 8:14:00 AM

    Maryam Mirzakhani is married to Jan Vondrak who is Czech and an alumni of Charles University (BS in Physics, 1995).

  3. Congratulations on 6000 great posts, Lubos! Looking forward to the next 6K.

  4. Since Maryam was at first more interested in reading and writing fiction than doing mathematics, I thought she might enjoy Kurt Vonnegut's short clip "On the Shapes of Stories":

    I doubt it’s possible for Vonnegut to string 5 words together without getting a chuckle.

  5. Lubos,

    Maryam Mirzakhani was born in Iran... IRAN!!!!!

    How the hell was she able to get on to the Iranian IMO team when women were/are treated as second class citizens compared to men under Islamic law in Iran?

    It's really laughable that of all the places on the planet where the first female Field's Medalist comes from it's... ladies and gentlemen...

    India? likely
    Pakistan? dude, that's an Islamic state
    US? almost certainly
    Iran? you're on crack, get the hell out of here


    (leaves Lubos's blog. screaming and waving hands hysterically... IRAN!...iran!

  6. Lubos, something that needs also to be mentioned: actually Avila is the first brazilian (professor at IMPA, RJ) to be awarded with a Fields medal: ... maybe you could invite him for a post.

  7. Thank you very much, Ann, also for being around for this long time!

    Today, I also exceeded 100,000 reputation on Stack Exchange so they want me to pick some "swag".

    What would you choose? ;-)

  8. SteveBrooklineMAAug 13, 2014, 4:37:00 PM

    This review of Hairer's work is really something:

    I wonder these Quanta pieces are a bit over the top. I can't really judge. Congratulations to all the winners!

  9. It appears the chances of a woman winning the medal are about the same as that of a Canadian. 2014 was the first for both categories, although it appears Manjul Bhargava was mearly born in Canada. Maybe I can take solace in the fact that the medal was named/founded by a Canadian. That and that there are no Czech winners :)

    Somewhat interesting story on how the Fields Medal rose to prominence:

  10. The black jacket and gray hoodie are kind of cool, and fall is coming along soon. But, it's surely your preference. Congrats on the big points!

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  12. Quanta Magazine has a very cute picture of Maryam as a child dressed up as a nurse.

    Little girls today don't dress up as a nurse like they used to. They will however dress up as a doctor. I suppose they do this because they have a strong desire to grow up to become a rich and powerful figure in an industry that's awash in cash. But there are a growing number of hospital CEOs that got their start as a nurse. And a growing number of these CEOs are provided with an income that far exceeds that of the highest paid physician at the hospital.

    Perhaps if little girls understood this shift in pay from hospital physicians to hospital executives, they would go back to dressing up as a nurse. But they need to be informed that these nurses-turned CEOs aren't real nurses. Very few of them ever took care of a patient at the bedside. And the ones that did were so lousy at it that they had to leave the bedside before they were stripped of their license to practice nursing. They merely obtained a nursing degree in order to increase their odds of landing an overpaid, underworked job in the corporate suite. Health care would be much more affordable and the quality of care would be much better if more healthcare dollars would leave the corporate suite and return to the bedside, where they belong and can do the most good for our healthcare system.

  13. Lubos's brain must have been exploded. How can this fit into his world view?

  14. +1 for the national organization for development of exceptional talents in iran. the uprising of most talented children must be a priority for any educational system. they are precious. it reminds me a very nice blog post ;) on ayn rand, where i found something that could totally apply here : i don't hate the low achieving students; i just don't believe they're the best and most important things in life and that their convenience is (or should be) the driving powering the people creativity.

  15. page 31 forward has Mirzakhani's methods
    proving a conjecture of Witten (already proved differently by

  16. Would this make her the Ed Witten of the female world?

  17. Apologies, I've seen this excitement elsewhere but I don't understand this excitement at all. Every person is from *some* country and Brazil is large enough to produce some winners but too weak to produce too many winners, so it's to be expected that winners come from similar countries. Maryam is the first Iranian winner, too, is that an equally big deal? A winner is either from a math superpower or not - comparable amounts. In the latter cases, it's rather likely that he or less likely she will be the first from his or her country.

  18. Cynthia: Hospital administrators are like aphids---they clone themselves. Unless you eliminate all of them, the population explodes.
    Aphids feed on the sap of phloem vessels of plants. Admin. feed off of the hospital budget, and the results on the hospital organism is the same... :) In 197x, the tertiary hospital where I live had one administrator, one secretary. One could see him to discuss patient care any time. There has been much construction since, but also many bed closures, so the number of active beds is equivalent, and now there are hundreds of administrators. They metastasized and took over the entire nursing school bldg (nursing ed moved to the University). And the people wonder why it takes so long now to get tests, or have surgical procedures....

  19. It's terrible, Gordon. Who is really in charge of the hospitals? And if it's some physicians, why can't they fight this metastasis?

  20. Thanks for linking to Strings 2014, a chance for laymen to listen to the way real physicists talk to each other. I thought Andy Strominger's overview of the state of string theory was particularly good. Steinhardt's review of BICEP 2 and of inflation in general seemed persuasive to me; were there flaws in his argument?

  21. Dear Luke, concerning Steinhardt, do you mean this talk?

    Sorry, after 6 minutes or so, I got so upset that I won't be able to complete watching this junk. Witten said that Steinhardt was the bad cop. Oh, really? Is Steinhardt is a cop, who is the felon?

    From the first minute, it's a demagogy about his being the only advocate of the scientific method - he only applies these talking points to others' claims and discoveries, not to his own musings. They could equally well invited a Shmoit to the conference, too.

    Inflation is an extremely robust, universally applicable theory that explains pretty much all the features of cosmology that are left unexplained by the Big Bang with virtually no assumptions, and BICEP2 is the cleverest experiment done so far to learn something that goes beyond the simple "inflation Yes or No" question. Any amount of general preaching about what is science, if it is directed against inflation and/or against BICEP2, only shows that he a dishonest demagogic asshole, and if you find this šit "persuasive", it only shows that it makes absolutely no sense to promote physics because a layman will always find the exact opposite of physics to be at least equally persuasive on the following day.

  22. First of all, you know I am a layman (John Q. Public) who comes here to learn. I trust your opinion or I wouldn't bother to ask. ("The trouble with the global village are all the village idiots." -- who said that?)

    Anyway, to his credit Steinhardt did say that if the BICEP 2 results hold up then his own theory (of a big crunch before the big bang) could be ruled out.

    Would this leave some form of inflation the only theory standing? What about string gas cosmology? Didn't its author state (on this blog) that it made a prediction about the direction of the polarization counter to that made by theories of inflation? Or is that only true about some theories of inflation?

    Anyway, if inflation comes in many different forms then it reminds me a little of Darwin's theory of natural selection at the time that he first put it forward: in some sense his was more of a scenario than a theory because he wasn't sure what the exact mechanism of variation was. He didn't know about genes and even thought Lamarck's ideas about the heritability of acquired characteristics might have some merit. Even so Darwin was basically correct -- and not just about natural selection, but sexual selection too, which, it turns out, may be every bit as important, at least for human beings!

    Or do you think this is a bad analogy?

    As another possible alternative to inflation, what about String Gas Cosmology? I believe the author of that hypothesis claimed (on your blog) that the polarization observed by BICEP 2 was of a kind (blue or red, I forget which) that was predicted by his theory but not by inflationary theories.

  23. Dear Luke, people have various views on particular theories. I don't think that string gas cosmology is a viable replacement for inflation in the very mysteries that inflation has actually demystified. As far as I can say, these general features of inflation are much more important for the appraisal of the theory and its alternatives than some - mostly speculative - focus on some technical features of an emerging experiment such as deviations from the scale invariance etc.

    So I keep string gas cosmology in mind but its probability isn't comparable to that of inflation, by far.

    If you want to argue that Darwin's theory isn't a theory, just a "scenario", then of course one may say the same thing about inflation. I don't understand what's the point of your trying to remove the status of these theories as "theories". They are clearly theories. They are scientific theories about extremely important, "systemic" questions underlying the world - so important that one could call them "metaquestions".

    But words like "metaquestions" are just words. Of course that such metaquestions are questions, too, and it just became possible for science to accumulate a large amount of evidence that helps to determine the truth value of such questions.

    I think that the comparison between Darwin's theory and inflationary theory is a good one - but your claims are equally wrong about both of them. Darwin's theory is undoubtedly a theory, an existentially important one in biology, and your claims that Darwin was wrong about some things (like that he didn't know sex and the role it played in selections) are just idiotic creationist fairy-tales.

  24. "important one in biology, and your claims that Darwin was wrong about some things (like that he didn't know sex and the role it played in selections) are just idiotic creationist fairy-tales.

    You should read more carefully what I actually said, namely, that Darwin did identify the important role of sex and sexual selection in evolution. Anyway evolution is most certainly a theory today because of all the genetic evidence which has come to light in the last hundred plus years that supports it in extraordinary detail. I was merely suggesting a possible analogy between the theory of inflation today to the theory of evolution as it existed in Darwin's day. I did not say that analogy was a good one. Instead, I asked your opinion about it.

  25. Dear Luke, as far as I can say, Darwin's theory of evolution as we know it today is the very same theory that was discovered by Darwin.

    Technical issues in genetics and DNA - molecular genetics - help to produce a more complete picture but I don't think it's right to count these things to Darwin's theory. Darwin's theory is on par with thermodynamics while molecular genetics is on par with statistical physics. Thermodynamics exists even without statistical physics. Statistical physics is just a more constructive, on-the-first-principles based description of these phenomena but its status doesn't mean that there is anything wrong about thermodynamics or Darwin's theory.

    Again, I think that the analogy is a good one but I think you are completely wrong if you think that Darwin's theory of the origin of species was incomplete in some major way during Darwin's life.

  26. Physicians lost control of the hospitals long ago. They have a non-voting rep on some administrative committees, but the govt apparatchiks have the power. Illustrative of this is that the physician reps are not paid to attend the meetings, while the admin hacks are...but enough whining.

  27. --never did like the Turok-Steinhardt models. How does Lisa feel about the Ekyrotic brane collisions?

  28. Dear Gordon, I forgot what she's exactly saying. If it is important, I can ask her.

    Unlike inflation, I think she has never done research on cyclic/ekpyrotic stuff.

  29. Nah, not important, just a stray transient thought. :)

  30. The addition of molecular genetics to Darwin's theory is simply Neo Darwinism-

    Nothing wrong with Darwin's theory---just an "evolution" of it to incorporate new information---the thermodynamics/stats mechanics analogy is a good one.

  31. Hi, Paul and Lubos.

    Question. The tan\beta < 1 limits are extracted from the signal strengths quoted by the LHC collaborations, but it seems to me that the meaning of 'signal strength' has been misinterpreted. It's the ratio of observation to SM of \sigma(production)xBR(decay). The authors have taken it to be \sigma(H->ff)xBR(decay). Doesn't this void the method by which they bound tan\beta?

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