Monday, August 16, 2010

Remembering Mathematicians: Let's Talk about Mathematical Pedigrees

Now that teachers and parents are gearing up for the new school year, let's think about mathematics for a little while. Mathematicians have very desirable jobs according to a recent survey. One topic that might interest all students is the idea that mathematicians learn from other mathematicians before them. In addition, some mathematicians have fascinating academic lineages now search-able online.

The academic pedigree of mathematicians is a fascinating topic aided by computers and funded by the American Mathematical Society (AMS), one of the most prestigious of mathematical societies and associations, along with the Mathematical Association of America and many others.

It's fascinating to be able to go back, now very far back in time, and check the academic pedigrees of mathematicians. I would encourage all my readers to check out the Mathematics Genealogy Project.


By searching for a mathematician, and then clicking on the advisor links, it's possible to travel back many centuries in time and see how mathematicians are connected.

Let's start at home, with one Paul Seymour. Dear reader, I married him. On the home page, search Paul Seymour, and his advisor at Balliol College, at the University of Oxford was Aubrey Ingleton. Click on Ingleton, and on Ingleton's site, click on advisor links to descend directly back to famous mathematicians such as G.H. Hardy, and before him, Sir Arthur Cayley, who was descended from Sir Isaac Newton and then his line continues back to the great Galileo. Paul Seymour's lucky students at Princeton should know they were taught by  someone who learned from Galileo!

This was interesting news to us. The AMS has been busy…Guess I should thank them at this point. As with family pedigrees with which we are more familiar, mathematical pedigrees, if true (a very large if), should be taken with large flakes of salt (and not create social impediments) with value as interesting mathematical folklore not business advantage.

Actually, maybe math teachers might want to research this site and point it out to students whose interest might be captured and motivated by this cool research tool. The world needs more mathematicians, whoever taught them and whatever establishment they attended.

Incidentally, the AMS has just announced the establishment of digital archives in mathematical research journals, over 34,000 articles.

A few hundreds or thousands of mathematicians will attend the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) in Hyderabad, India, August 19-27, 2010. The Congress meets only once every four years and is a forum for announcements of major recent mathematical breakthroughs. Invitations to attend are highly sought after and prestigious, and major mathematical awards are usually given at the Congress. We're thinking of them. Click here to search a database of mathematicians who have given talks at ICMs since 1897. 

Finally, can't resist saying I am currently noticing math blogs buzzing about a paper currently being reworked about P and NP. The blogs by Lipton, Gowers and Aaronson are strictly for insiders, but interesting to read for recent results and collaborative professional effort.

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