Sixth European Congress
of Mathematics

Sixth European Congress of Mathematics

The Sixth European Congress of Mathematics has concluded in Kraków, Poland, during the period 2–6 July 2012. With about 1000 participants this quadrennial event is the largest gathering of mathematicians in Europe. The Congress, sponsored by the European Mathematical Society, lasted five days, with two days preceeding reserved for meetings of the EMS governing Council. Additional sponsors included the Polish Mathematical Society and the Jagiellonian University, host of the event.

The setting for the meeting of the Council and the Congress was the modern (constructed 2007) Auditorium Maximum of the Jagiellonian University, steeped in tradition in the beautiful historic city of Kraków. The venue has a complement of meeting rooms of differing sizes to accommodate the various lectures, mini-symposia, and award ceremonies.

President of the EMS Marta Sanz-Solé, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Barcelona, opened both events. Prof. Sanz-Solé is personally well known to me owing to our joint connections to the Centre of Mathematics for Applications, resident at the Department of Mathematics, University of Oslo. She is the one who inspired me to join the EMS and to become involved in its activities, much to my personal benefit. For this I owe her a sincere debt of gratitude.

The Council is composed of 24 members (of which I am one) representing the individual members of the Society and another 60 or so representatives of institutional members (principally universities and research facilities.) About 80 Council members were present for the meetings. The Council has an Executive Committee consisting of the President, two Vice Presidents, a Treasurer, a Secretary, and five Members elected at large. The EMS has various standing committees, all active, which provide valuable advice to the Council and Executive Committee.

The whole governance establishment runs very smoothly and effectively. The committees do meaningful work and are not marginalized or trivialized, as they can be in some societies. This sense of pulling together is all the more remarkable considering that most persons on the Council are important in their own domains and therefore are not accustomed to playing subservient rank-and-file team roles.

Council business included the election and induction to membership the Kosovar Mathematical Society following a presentation by President of the Society Qëndrim R. Gashi. Rolf Jeltsch, member of the Board of Trustees of the EMS Publishing House told of its activities including the current publication of 13 journals and the overall publication of more than 100 books. Volker Mehrmann told of preparations for the Seventh European Congress of Mathematics to be held in Berlin 18–22 July 2016. President Marta Sanz-Solé of the EMS is ex officio Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the EMS Publishing House. Prof. Jeltsch is affiliated with the Department of Mathematics, ETH Zürich. Prof. Mehrmann is affiliated with the Department of Mathematics, Technical University of Berlin.

This is the University where Copernicus studied for four years and produced his heliocentric theory of the solar system, as it then became known, and the city of the late Pope John Paul II, whose home church was the Cathedral of St. Francis, in the adjoining Convent of which the Congress had its formal dinner. It is also the city of Oskar Schindler’s factory, as central to the film Schindler’s List as directed by Steven Spielberg, and is near the dreadful Nazi German extermination camp of Auschwitz–Birkenau.

Impressive to me was the enthusiasm with which Past Presidents of the EMS in every possible way contribute to the success of the Society and its governing Council, including the presentation of this Congress. Two noteworthy examples, with whom fortunately I was able to visit for brief times, are Ari Laptev, Ukrainian by birth, Swedish by choice, Professor of Mathematics at Imperial College, London, and Director of the Mittag–Leffler Institute of Sweden, and Jean-Pierre Bourguigon, Director of the Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies, of France.

Following the Council meetings we were treated to a reception and dinner with the Mayor of Kraków, Jacek Majchrowski, at the City Hall. Just prior we had a tour of the Cathedral of St. Francis hearing beautiful music on the organ played by a nun of the Convent, and seeing the overwhelmingly beautiful stained glass windows which are world famous.

The Opening Ceremony of the Congress, which featured speakers of the Polish national and regional governments, along with the Rector of the Jagiellonian University and other academic dignataries, was carried live on Radio Kraków, and reported extensively in the newspapers the following day. The University Choir sang the Polish National Anthem, extremely significant to the Polish people given their history of oppressive dominance by the Nazi German and then Soviet Communist regimes. The Choir followed, then, with the more light-hearted Gaudeamus igitur, the informal anthem of the University students.

Twelve prizes were awarded during the Opening Ceremony, ten EMS Prizes to young mathematicians, plus the Felix Klein Prize for “an outstanding solution, which meets with the complete satisfaction of industry, to a concrete and difficult industrial problem,” and the Otto Neugebauer Prize in the History of Mathematics. Information on the prize winners appears here: 6ECM prize winners. A list of speakers and laureates at the Opening Ceremony with a picture gallery appears here: Opening Ceremony speakers.

Needless to say, the lectures and talks were uniformly at the highest level, with many leading personages from all branches of mathematics and leaders of important research institutions in attendance. I will not try to review these many fine presentations in this space, yet I do want to mention two as exceptional.

The first was a plenary lecture by Michel Talagrand of the National Center of Scientific Research, of France, speaking on the “Geometry of stochastic processes.” Prof. Talagrand is a full member of the French Academy of Sciences and a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. He exposited on his subject artfully and technically proficiently, leading the audience from one concept to another with ease. Before long, he presented us with deep and insightful results, all understandable owing to the direct course to their revelation. He spoke in ideas, only employing careful notation and formulation as necessary for amplification. This lecture was a tour de force by any standard.

The second was another plenary lecture, this by Philip Welch, a set theorist, of Bristol University, England, speaking on, “Mechanising the mind: Turing and the computable — a centenary lecture.” The year 2012 is the 100th anniversary year of the birth of Alan Turing, and the occasion around the world to celebrate his many seminal contributions to mathematics and what has become known, following him, as information science.

Prof. Welch gave an inspired lecture as one as close, in today’s world, as one can be to Turing. The connection begins with Prof. Alonzo Church of Princeton University, who was Turing’s advisor for his Ph.D., received in 1938. Turing, thereafter, had only one Ph.D. student, Robin Gandy of Cambridge University, and one of his students was Philip Welch.

Prof. Welch led us on a very interesting biographical excursion of Turing’s life, including many facts and features of which I was not aware, and punctuated his lecture with an overview, including a few in-depth points, of Turing’s exceptional mathematical results, comparing them with parallel work by John von Neumann and Kurt Gödel. All in all this was a unified whole of a lecture, leaving the audience with a renewed appreciation of Turing’s life and work.

Further complementing the Congress was an extensive poster gallery of members’ recent results and an exhibitor room which featured booths by many of the member societies and publishing houses, such as the American Mathematical Society and Springer Verlag. The EMS, too, had a booth, with displays of its Publishing House.

Two personal highlights of this trip to Kraków will always remain with me. One was my visit to the Wawel Cathedral on the citadel overlooking the Vistula River. Wawel Castle, atop this outcropping of rock, was the royal residence of the kings and queens of Poland, and all are entombed in the amazingly beautiful and historic Cathedral. As well, certain acclaimed citizens of Poland are buried here, among them Frédéric François Chopin in a very simple crypt. It is difficult, to say the least, to try to compare one’s own accomplishments with those of Chopin in his brief 39 years of life.

The second personal highlight was my visit to the Jagiellonian University Library to see the original manuscript of Copernicus wherein he articulated his theory of the earth and other planets orbiting around the sun. The document, hand written in Latin, the language of scholarship in his early 16th Century, is De revolutionibus orbium coelestium — “On the revolutions of the celestial spheres.” To say that this document changed science and theology forever is indeed an understatement, and to say that I was totally in awe to be in its presence is another.

As part of our registration packages for the Congress each of us was presented with a 2 zloty coin featuring the image of the great Polish mathematician Stefan Banach, founder of the Polish School and contributor of many concepts bearing his name, such as Banach Space and the Hahn–Banach Theorem. This beautiful coin, struck in “Nordic Gold,” is one of a series of three, all issued by the
National Bank of Poland. The others are a 10 zloty coin in frosted proof silver, and a 200 zloty coin in proof gold.

On Friday, the final day of the Congress, I took advantage of a long break to walk to the Kraków branch of the National Bank to purchase the silver coin. As a numismatist from my youth I definitely appreciated this one, a real gem. You may read more on the life and work of Banach, as well as the details of these coins, on the official brochure, reproduced here. NBP Stefan Banach Commemorative Coin Brochure.

Lastly, I just want to mention one man I will always remember from this Congress, Prof. dr hab. Kazimierz Goebel. He had just registered for the Council Meetings (the first to arrive) when I appeared. We introduced ourselves and went off for a mineral water in the Cantina. “Kaz,” as he insisted I call him, had been President of the Polish Mathematical Society years back and still enjoys great respect in his community of scholars. We sat together through a few of the Council sessions and then plenary sessions of the Congress as I came to know him better. Then he drifted off to spend most of his time with friends and colleagues of long standing, as could well have been expected. He was the last person to whom I said “good-bye” as I departed the Congress on the final day. Godspeed Kaz. It was great meeting you.

Thus end my comments for this trip, a trip of a lifetime.

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