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Why 4,000 Mathematicians Came to Seoul

By Ryan Lee, VI Form


CrowdThis summer, the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) was held in Seoul, Korea. Lasting ten days, ICM 2014 started on August 13th. Over four thousand mathematicians from around the world came to Seoul to share information on research studies on mathematics and congratulate the mathematicians getting the Fields Medal. (Fields Medal is an award for mathematicians that is similar to the prestige of the Nobel Prize; it is awarded to four people not over the age of forty.) The Seoul ICM consisted of hundreds of lectures as well as numerous booths. The lectures ranged from some well-known fields such as number theory, combinatorics, geometry, and algebra to less familiar topics such as lie theory and topology. Many famous academic publishers such as the American Mathematical Society (AMS), Springer, and CRC Press set up booths in Hall C1 with math software companies, such as Wolfram Research (that created Mathematica) and MapleSoft (that created Maple). Two firsts occurred during the event: Maryam Mirzakani, a professor at Stanford University, was the first woman bestowed with the Fields Medal, and Artur Avila was the first Latin American to receive the award.

I visited the Wolfram Research booth each of the 10 days. The booth was staffed by Mr. Eric Weisstein, the founder of Wolfram MathWorld, Mr. Itai Seggev, and Mr. Michael Trott. Stephen Wolfram, the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research, could also be seen time to time at the booth. Because the new version of Mathematica had come out (Mathematica 10.0), Mr. Weisstein, Mr. Trott and Mr. Seggev showed me some of the new features, such as how Mathematica’s capabilities of solving partial differential equations numerically have been improved. It was an amazing experience to find some of the chief members of Wolfram Research who made Mathematica and to be taught directly by them.



Another highlight of my participation at ICM was the Conference Dinner on Saturday, August 16th. The Conference

Artur Dinner, hosted by the mayor of Seoul, was held in Hall D, a humungous hall full of round tables and waiters busy serving dinner. I sat with Mr. Seggev and other mathematicians from different countries. In the middle of the Conference Dinner, several people came to our table and talked with other mathematicians seated at the same table as us. Oddly, one of them looked familiar. After thinking momentarily, I jumped out of my seat, realizing that it was Artur Avila, the Fields Medalist of 2014. (The Fields Medal acknowledged Avila’s contributions to dynamical systems theory, a field of mathematics dedicated to finding long term behaviors of dynamical system. A dynamical system is a system where a fixed rule describes the position of a point at a certain time.) I nervously introduced myself to him, shook his hand, and asked to take a picture with him. He gladly agreed. With that one picture, I sat on my chair, stunned and amazed. I do not know if it was coincidence or destiny that I got to meet him, but the experience will be engraved in memory for a long time.

Overall, the ICM was an amazing experience that will never be forgotten. It was the first math conference I have gone to and left a profound impact on me and consider myself blessed to enjoy such an experience, such as being able to actively engage in a conversation with people from various international organizations such as UNICEF on ways to promote math education in developing countries. I was able to meet with the creators of the Mathematica, a math program I used to conduct research last year with Alex Padron and Luya Wang, and have a conversation with numerous mathematicians I want to be like. It has become one of my main goals to participate in ICM2018 in Rio de Janeiro as one of the speakers–giving a lecture on continuum theory, a field in topology that I have studied the most.

Ryan Lee is a VI Former from Seoul, Korea, and he lives in Sawyer House. He is passionate about math and computer science, and he often writes a post in his blog on math and computer science. 


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