French mathematicians stand out for their level of excellence

JPEG French mathematicians are at the top of their game. With a staff of 1,000 researchers and many national and international honours, France has, through the Fondation Sciences Mathématiques de Paris [Paris Mathematical Sciences Foundation] (FSMP), the biggest concentration of mathematicians in the world. With its expertise and its ambition to give mathematics a French image, the Foundation instigates and funds programmes to attract the international elite, trains the mathematicians of tomorrow and takes its research to a high level of excellence.

An essential base for all the sciences, a universal language, mathematics makes the most abstract conceptualisations and the most operational achievements possible. Mathematics is everywhere. It is part of our daily lives. It is integral to every sphere, from economic sciences to human sciences, through industry, or to applications such as seismology, oceanography or cryptography, which has become indispensable for secure credit card payments over the internet. “Mathematics is also extremely highly developed in biology; (…) mathematical modelling in biology is emerging as an essential element in the biological research of the future,” explains Jean-Yves Chemin, professor at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, and director of the FSMP.

Bringing together 1,000 scientists, 500 of them on the payroll, the Fondation Sciences Mathématiques de Paris, with its nine Parisian research units, is the largest breeding ground in the world for mathematicians who are interested in the entire field of pure and applied mathematics, as well as fundamental computer science. “There is no impermeable wall between theory and practical applications,” notes Jean-Yves Chemin. Launched in September 2007 with the aim of promoting Paris’s mathematical research units at a national and global level, the FMSP is part of a network that includes the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the Ecole Normale Supérieure, the Pierre et Marie Curie and Paris-Diderot universities, the university of Paris-Dauphine, the Collège de France and the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA).

Our work is conducted principally at an international level. For instance, a chair of excellence has been created, destined for world-renowned researchers working on large-scale scientific projects. For a year, the holder of the chair forms, together with the French capital’s mathematicians, a core of outstanding research,” comments Jean-Yves Chemin. High-level invitations also bring in major international mathematicians to spend periods of two to three months in Paris.

Fifteen foreign post-doctoral researchers are welcomed each year through the post-doc programme. “This programme is in line with international procedures and attracts top foreign researchers. It is proving a great success,” observes Jean-Yves Chemin.

Another of the Foundation’s missions is to cultivate interest in mathematics. The FSMP is planning to establish the “Paris Graduate School of Mathematical Sciences”, a programme of grants for Masters and Theses for foreign students. “The aim is to welcome twenty students at Masters level 1 at the beginning of the 2010 academic year,” notes Jean-Yves Chemin. The Foundation also funds visiting mathematicians from outside the capital for lecture terms at the Institut Henri Poincaré. “We have national projects with major companies. Even though we have received significant subsidies from the State and the City of Paris, we are conducting an active campaign to source private finance, as the development of our programmes is costly and is definitely in need of further funding,” Jean-Yves Chemin points out. The Foundation was, for instance, able to make funds available very quickly to bring over a young Australian prodigy who was sought after by other foreign universities. It also brought in an extremely brilliant Tunisian student, four Chinese Masters students and a Vietnamese student, who have had an extremely successful year.

France is the second nation in the world, behind the United States, for its number of Fields Medals, the most prestigious mathematical award for researchers under the age of 40. In 2003, a Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Serre, was the first winner of the Abel Prize, a sort of Nobel Prize for mathematics, which this year was awarded to the Franco-Russian mathematician Mikhail Gromov, a member of the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques, for his revolutionary contributions to geometry. The 5th European Congress of Mathematics, which was held in Amsterdam in July 2008, was an opportunity to pay tribute to the excellence of French mathematicians. By way of example, Laure Saint-Raymond, professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris, was rewarded for having used maths to develop a better understanding of complex climatic phenomena in equatorial regions. Josselin Garnier, professor at Paris-Diderot university, was given an award for his applied work in seismology, which has enabled him to map the Californian subsoil.

The prestigious 2009 Blaise Pascal Medal, awarded by the European Academy of Sciences, has just been awarded to Pierre-Arnaut Raviart, director of research at the CNRS at the Jacques-Louis Lions research unit, for his outstanding contribution to the field of mathematical modelling and digital approximation of problems arising from physics and mechanics. And the Clay Research Award, at a ceremony on 4 and 5 May 2009 at Harvard University, was given to French mathematician Jean-Loup Waldspurger, director of research at the CNRS, for his work on p-adic harmonic analysis, and in particular his contributions to the transfer conjecture and the fundamental lemma. “French mathematics is at an extremely high level. We are championing excellence at the University,” Jean-Yves Chemin acknowledges.

Annik Bianchini - Actualité en France No. 31 - August 2009


www.sciencesmath-paris: Fondation Sciences Mathématiques de Paris

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