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Monday, June 23, 2014

Rewarding Math, Generating Excitement


The big news of the morning is the awarding of the new "Breakthrough" mathematics prizes  ('most lucrative ever established') to five recipients:

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jun/23/britons-win-3m-breakthrough-mathematics-prize

While the award is intended to "celebrate scientists and generate excitement" for science/math fields, another mathematician notes that most mathematicians can no longer even understand the "technical, esoteric stuff" that many of their colleagues do.

Scientific American piece on the award focuses on Terry Tao, one of the winners, who says I "hope we can live up to the prize" ($3 million):
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/with-awards-like-the-breakthrough-prize-who-needs-a-nobel/

Article notes that it is hoped that the prizes'  "lavish payouts and star treatment will turn the winning researchers into household names and inspire future generations to pursue math and science as prestigious careers."
For what it's worth this year's inaugural math winners range from 36 to 56 years of age.

The NY Times coverage here:
http://tinyurl.com/mbdlfam  (possible paywall)

Deadline for making nominations for next year's prize is around the corner on June 30.
In addition to mathematics, there are also "Breakthrough" awards for physics and the life sciences.

Even if the general goal of household-name status and public comprehension of the math achievements is never attained, still love the sentiment of drawing press attention to accomplished mathematicians (...now, most of you can go back to watching the World Cup ;-)).

ADDENDUM:  these awards have opened some debate over the efficacy of such news-grabbing, high $$$ prizes to a select few (versus, perhaps, more, smaller, awards to a greater number of deserving recipients). Anyway, here's Columbia's Peter Woit's somewhat middle-of-the-road-take on the issue:

http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=6972


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