The first-ever Heidelberg Laureate Forum is taking place this week. It’s modeled after the decades-old Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, which bring together Nobel Laureates and young researchers for a conference on a particular topic. Mathematics and computer science are not represented in the list of Nobel Prize disciplines, so the Heidelberg Laureate Forum is an analogous conference for those fields. The laureates have won some of the most prestigious awards in mathematics and computer science: the Fields Medal, the Abel Prize, the Nevalinna Prize, and the Turing Award. Along with 39 prize winners, 200 young researchers in math and computer science are attending the meeting and getting a chance to interact with the very best in their fields.
The Heidelberg Laureate Forum has a blog in both English and German, and some great mathematics writers have been contributing.
Dana Mackenzie wonders why there are so few mathematicians at the meeting. Only 9 of the 39 participating laureates are mathematicians. Is it because mathematicians don’t feel like they’re a tight-knit community the way computer scientists do, or was the timing just bad?
Mackenzie also has a lovely post about feeling like he understood Teichmüller space for the first time, thanks to a talk by Fields medalist Curt McMullen featuring a beautiful video by Diana Davis. Dana explains that all possible shapes of pretzels (up to conformal equivalence) can be described by just 6 parameters—very appropriate, as he is eating a lot of pretzels in Germany right now!
Young mathematician Adrian Dudek also found McMullen’s talk inspiring, a “perfect example of how maths should be delivered to a non-specialist audience.”
John D. Cook wonders what the probability was that he would see two all-female saxophone quartets in two days in Heidelberg. (In his case, the probability was 1!)
Julie Rehmeyer muses about “the most unhelpful possible way to prove something,” proofs that contain no additional insight. These would be deeply unsatisfying to mathematicians, but they can be useful in computer science, where controlling information is important. Rehmeyer has also been tweeting about the meeting.
There are many, many other interesting blog posts on the Heidelberg Laureate Forum blog, including interviews with attendees and guest posts from some of them, and you can follow the meeting on Twitter as well. The blog will be updated through the end of the week and perhaps after the festivities have concluded. So if, like me, you are a bit envious of the people who got to attend, you can live vicariously through them!
I think part of the reason people are dismayed about why there are so few mathematicians there is because they don’t consider Theoretical Computer Science to be mathematics. This is the real shame, because some of the biggest names in TCS are giving talks there (including almost all of the big players who made P vs NP into the infamous problem it is today), and recently a lot of work in TCS has found surprising applications in pure mathematics. I think it’s time traditional mathematicians started to take the subject a bit more seriously 🙂