Last January, mathematician Eugenia Cheng was interviewed in the BBC Radio 4 show “The Life Scientific”, where she talked about her career and her choices as a prolific mathematician-musician-science communicator. I saw her giving a talk at the Imaginary Conference 2016 in Berlin, and it was inspiring to see her on stage doing maths, music and science communication. Continue reading Graphic summary of Eugenia Cheng’s radio interview
In 2016, I participated in the Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF17) as a postdoc, and I was as excited to meet the most brilliant mathematicians of our times as to see the press room filled with expert science communicators and journalists keeping the outside world updated of the events at HLF. The following year I couldn’t believe my luck when I was accepted to be part of the blog team for the HLF 2017 to illustrate and do graphic recording during the event. I was priviledge to work alongside brilliant science communicators, as this excited twitt shows:
It was one of the most amazing experiences, like an intense, exciting and exhausting one-week internship in sci comm. I was in the Press room, I was listening to brilliant minds talking about the future of maths and computer science, and drawing it all, watching next to me experienced science communicators working at their best. What else could a I wish for?… well, to do it again!
And there’s more! I gathered enough material to keep me busy after the HLF17 was over, but that’s for another post.
Last year I attended the 4th Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF). I would often get the e-mail announcements, but as soon as I would read it was intended for “promising young researchers”, I would stop reading. I never considered myself promising, and certainly not young. Not to the standards I see around me. However, a professor* at the university where I did my first postdoc forwarded it to me, adding “this is for you!”. How come his idea of me could be so different from my own, was unknown to me. In an answer that felt almost like a dare, I said I would apply only if he would write a letter of support. Which he did, so I applied. I did it with my best intentions, with a deep, but temporary conviction. As soon as I clicked the submit button, the feeling faded to thinking I had no chance to get in. It looked like a huge fancy event, anyway. How would I fit there? I’m a mathematician, sobriety is part of my craft.
I was invited to the 4th HLF, together with 199 other promising young researchers. And I made the best of it. I arrived feeling a bit uncomfortable, but determined to learn from this one-in-a-lifetime experience. And I did, and there was nothing to be anxious about. I appreciated the efforts of the organizers and the supporting staff to build a space of trust, where all participants could meet. Starting with the laureates, everybody was eager to talk, to open up, to be interested in one another.
That’s why I feel so extremely lucky to be attending this year’s 5th HLF. This time not as a researcher, but as part of the English Blog Team. As a warm-up, I wanted to share my impressions of last year’s HLF. Scroll down!
This wouldn’t have been possible without recommendation letters for my HLF application! Thanks to François Germinet (Cergy-Pontoise) for his continual support.
*Thanks to Thomas Østergaard Sørensen (Munich) for encouraging me to apply to the HLF and for his support.
Saturday July 15, 2017. When the news struck in the early morning, I was getting my desk and my drawing tools ready to do a graphic summary of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum 2016, where I participated as a postdoc. The news was a shock: Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to have been awarded the Fields Medal had died of cancer at age 40.
This event is tragic on many levels, and this is a huge loss for science. But while I was preparing to draw about the Heidelberg Forum, all I could think of was, the participants of the forum will never get to meet Maryam Mirzakhani. The motto of the event “Laureates of mathematics and computer science meet the next generation” will never include her, the first woman to win the Fields Medal, the biggest recognition in mathematics. I remembered the “next generation”, those young undergrads, graduate students and postdocs that I met in 2016, looking in awe at these laureates and showering them with questions about research and their life in academia. There was suddenly a sad hole in the idea of scientific events where young people meet senior researchers.
The mailing list of the European Women in Mathematics (EWM) became active with messages of condolences and soon the observation came about that the first woman to receive the Fields Medal was probably the first laureate to die so soon. Mirzakhani’s award was at the same time a recognition for the whole community of female mathematicians. The avalanche of publicity that came after her prize was good for mathematicians (perhaps not too good for her), because that led the media to talk about maths, and the under representation of women in maths. Her loss had touched in particular the community of women in maths. For me, hers was also a loss for the movement among scientists and artists that tries to highlight the role of drawings in the process of doing and communicating science.
As explained in this excellent interview in Quanta magazine, she often drew her maths constructions in big sheets of paper . “Doodling helps her focus” reads the interview. Drawing is often overlooked or not taken seriously by the academic community. Currently, outside our scholarly bubble, there is a boom of creative practices, like illustration and graphic design, where visualization is considered a powerful instrument for communicating (for ex. graphic facilitation). In academia, there is a growing number of initiatives pointing in that direction (for ex. ERCComics and Cartoon Science). The blog you area reading right now, The Rage of the Blackboard, is a modest contribution in that direction. Scientists do not seem to weigh the power of drawing as a tool, but there is such a big graphic component when we think science that we don’t notice. Mirzakhani did notice, and drew in big sheets of paper.
The impact of the achievements in her short-lived career makes her an icon. Now, we expect an avalanche of tributes and articles in the news and in math events. But Mirzakhani is not the only brilliant female mathematician out there, and meetings where young people are encouraged to exchange with established researchers would benefit immensely from inviting female laureates that are not necessarily Fields or Nobel prize winners. These gatherings could include among their speakers, for example, female winners of the EMS prize and equivalent prizes from other continents. Let us not wait patiently for another woman Fields medalist. Let us meet and learn from the brilliant women we have around us, and celebrate their achievements now. And perhaps, even doodle science together in big sheets of paper.
It really adds up was the subject in Judy’s e-mail after attending the event It All Adds Up in Oxford on April 16 – 17, 2015. This was the London Mathematical Society’s “Women in Maths Day” which in 2015 was extended to a 4-day event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the society. The first part was intended for school students, while the second part was addressed to university students, postdocs and academics, which is where Judy and I met. As with many other colleagues there, we talked about starting a career in maths late in life (late 20s, early 30s), and about life-career balance.
We talked about how hard it is to do math when one doesn’t follow the usual path, and about how rewarding it is, with the appropriate support. We were both there because, I think, we are thrilled by maths and at the same time had so many questions and doubts. So how do other people manage? How do other women manage?
It is rare to find scientists that are also artists, or artists that are also scientists, specially when science seems to be such a closed environment, accessible only to those selected few that have spent years and years of hard studies. However, such art/scien-tists do exist, and in Matteo Farinella I found someone who reached out of his scientific path, to do arts with science at its heart.
I met Matteo on a sunny afternoon in the Southbank Center, one of his favorite places in London. One of my first questions was “is there a name for your job”? to which, after some hesitation, he answered “well, not yet”. Matteo is at the same time the artist and the scientist, and in his work the two worlds intertwine in a dialog where the content is carefully backed with research, accompanied with compelling images to carry the narrative.
Last week, the 2015 Pint of Science Festival took place in the UK and in other 8 countries (France, Italy, Spain, Brazil, USA, Ireland, Australia and Germany). In this science festival, scientists and people interested in what they do, gather in bars and talk about the latest news of their research in a convivial environment. I was lucky1 to be in Cambridge at that time and attended two sessions, the one on materials science and the one on astrophysics. It was such a great experience that I thought I had to share it with everyone, so I’ll give a summary of what I learned in what, according to me, were the most interesting talks. Continue reading Pint of Science in Cambridge
This page is dedicated to interviews with those that do science, and have in the blackboard a good friend. They talk about life in academia, creative work, pros and cons about working in research, etc. We start our series of interviews with a special article, an interview with Prof. Anna Dall’Acqua (Ulm University). Read on!