Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure

Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure by Cédric Villani

Book: Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure by Cédric Villani Read Free Book Online
Authors: Cédric Villani
Tags: science, Biography, Non-Fiction
to Paris, then, or going back to Lyon? Perhaps neither one. Cheese or no cheese, life here is very agreeable, and I have an offer to stay at the IAS for a year, maybe longer if things go well, with a handsome salary and other benefits. And now that Claire’s been able to get on with her own research again, this is a good place for her to be too. She’s part of a team in the Department of Geosciences at Princeton that’s analyzing what may turn out to be the oldest known animal fossils—an extraordinary discovery! The leader of the team is urging her to apply for a postdoc. As it is, by coming with me to Princeton she lost her teaching position in Lyon, and by now it’s too late for her to be considered for the next round of faculty assignments.
    None of this makes Claire really want to go back. Staying on here would certainly be simpler for her, and more satisfying as well. And so it’s difficult to resist the allure of Princeton. To be sure, I can’t see myself settling permanently in a place where good bread is so hard to find.… But for a few years, why not? And if the IHP can’t be bothered to come up with an attractive offer, well, there’s nothing I can do about it!
    Anyway, I’d been mulling all this over for several weeks and just last night decided to send a letter to France declining the job.
    But this morning, when I went to open my email, there it was, a message from the IHP saying that all my conditions had been accepted! Okay to more money, okay to no teaching duties, okay to continued research funding. All of which would have been approved in the United States as a matter of course, but in France it’s quite unheard of. Claire was reading the message over my shoulder.
    “If they can be counted on to do everything they say they will, you ought to accept.”
    Exactly what I was thinking. And so it’s decided: we will say goodbye to Princeton and go back to France at the end of June!
    Now to tell my new colleagues here the news. No doubt some of them will understand and offer their encouragement. (Give it all you’ve got, Cédric! It’s going to be a tremendous experience, etc.) Others will be worried for me. (Cédric, have you really given this enough thought? Running an institution like that will leave you no time for your own work, etc.) One or two, I’m willing to bet, will be terribly upset with me. In any event, my diplomatic skills are going to be tested right away—in the United States rather than France!
    In the midst of all this confusion, one thing is certain: nothing is more important right now than the work I’m doing with Clément.
    *   *   *
     
    The Institut Henri Poincaré (“Home of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics”) was founded in 1928 to put an end to the state of isolation in which French science found itself following World War I. Soon it was renowned not only as an institution of scientific training and research but as a cultural forum as well. Einstein lectured on general relativity there, Volterra on the use of mathematical methods in biology. The IHP was home to the first French institute of statistics and the site of the first French computer project. It was also, and not least, a place where artists mingled with scientists. Some of the surrealists found inspiration there, as the photographs and paintings of Man Ray attest.
    Later incorporated as a branch of the mathematics faculty of the University of Paris, the IHP was moribund for two decades after 1968, then reestablished in the early 1990s as a department of Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) and an organ of national scientific policy supported by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).
    As an integral part of a very large university, the IHP is assured of financial stability during uncertain times and benefits from the expertise of a sizable staff of administrators and technical specialists that a private institution of its size could not afford to maintain. Affiliation with the

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