Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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This week Prof Yau was visiting at our department and gving a series of talks. While he may be unknown to you, he’s one of the more famous mathematicians there are today – particularly if you’re into the geometry stuff that we do. (How many famous living mathematicians do you know as a non-mathematician? Anybody other than Wiles?) If you’ve been reading stuff about string theory, perhaps in The Elegant Universe, you may have seen the topic of ‘Calabi-Yau manifolds’ mentioned and thus recognise the name.

When he first came on, I was surprised that he looked much younger than I expected him to be. His three talks were well prepared, and given at a consistent and reasonable pace. In addition he was properly dressed (something that’s worth mentioning when talking about mathematicians). Ironically the first talk was hardest to understand. In part because I had to get used to his accent, in part because there was quite a bit of physics in there, which caused a lot of difficulties.

What was impressive about the talks was how often he mentioned his own name. Often people avoid mentioning their achievements in their talks, so what Yau did looked a bit like he’s showing off. On the other hand, he doesn’t really need to show off anyway, and having him give a tour through a few decades of his work does require him mentioning what he’s done. And that’s a lot. Quite impressive.

June 2, 2005, 0:24

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