Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE


Article excerpt

Martin Hairer is Regius professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick and a fellow of the Royal Society. In August he was awarded the Fields Medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics. He is the eighth UK-based mathematician to win the award

Where and when were you born?

Geneva, Switzerland on 14 November 1975.

How has this shaped you?

I grew up in a bilingual environment (German at home; French everywhere else), which taught me very early on the difference between meaning and the words used to express it. This distinction is fundamental in mathematics and it is something many people struggle with: just look at how many people have problems accepting that 0.99999...and 1 are just two different "words" representing the same number.

You're only the eighth UK-based scholar to win the award and the first since 1998. Is this a concern for British mathematics?

There have been only 56 Fields Medal winners worldwide since the award was created, so 14 per cent of all medals went to UK-based academics, which seems to me a rather good proportion for a country with less than 1 per cent of the world's population.

You've also broken Oxbridge's near-monopoly on the UK's Fields medallists (not discounting UCL). Do you have institutional pride for your achievement too?

There is some, yes. The University of Warwick has a fantastic mathematics institute. This is very well known among mathematicians and in UK industry, but I hope that this award will contribute towards raising the general public's awareness. Many people still seem to be conditioned to believe that any academic institution not affiliated to either Oxford or Cambridge is second rank, which is not the case at all.

What is the UK's global position in the broader field of mathematics?

The UK has a clear leadership position in mathematics. It is always very tricky to try to rank countries, and there are of course a few other countries on a par with the UK. By most measures, I believe France and the US would rank above the UK. In the case of the US, this is due partly to the prestige of its top institutions and partly to better salaries. In France, this is probably due mainly to a difference in culture: mathematics seems to be much more appreciated by the general public there - but interestingly not so much by their industry.

What kind of undergraduate were you?

Academically, I was always one of the strongest students, but this doesn't mean I would say no to a good party on Saturday night! …

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