Math institute celebrates 20 years
Film series at PFA celebrates computation on celluloid

16 October 2002 | The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, located in the hills east of campus, will celebrate its 20th anniversary this month with a series of guest lectures and a film festival celebrating math in the movies.

Some of the world’s most respected mathematical scholars are expected to attend the continuing celebration, which includes guest lectures, panel discussions, and films portraying the impact of math on humankind’s understanding of the physical universe.

“There is quite a bit of interest in mathematics today,” says Michael Singer, acting director of the institute, an independent nonprofit with close ties to the campus. “Math is the language of science and, really, the way in which nature is expressed. We think the public will begin to see that as we explore the influence of math in the development of ideas and some of the greatest discoveries of our time.”

The celebration kicks off on Wednesday, Oct. 23, with a panel discussion of “The Honors Class: Hilbert’s Problems in Perspective.” Scholars will assess the progress they have seen in solving the famous mathematician’s 20 mathematical conundrums, which he hoped would shape the discipline well into the 20th century.

At the 1900 Second International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris, David Hilbert described a collection of unsolved problems, which stimulated intense research in the field. The mathematician Hermann Weyl wrote that anyone solving one of these problems would “[pass] on to the honors class of the mathematical community.”

The presentation will feature a panel discussion, moderated by David Hoffman, associate director of external collaborations at the campus institute. Panelists will include Benjamin Yandell, author of “The Honors Class: Hilbert’s Problems and Their Solvers,” and mathematical biographer Constance Reid, author of “Hilbert.” The authors will be joined by distinguished mathematicians Sir Michael Atiyah, former president of the Royal Society, and Paul Cohen, who contributed to the solution of Hilbert’s first problem.

“This is an examination of perhaps one of the most famous problem lists of modern mathematics,” says W. Hugh Woodin, chair of the mathematics department. “The debate should be a lively one and entertaining to those who attend.”

The discussion will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in Evans Hall and is free to the public.

On Saturday, Oct. 26, the institute will celebrate its anniversary with a 3 p.m. reception in the interior courtyard of the Valley Life Sciences Building. The reception will be followed by a free talk, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., in Chan Shun Auditorium, 2050 Valley Life Sciences. Sir Michael Atiyah will lecture on “Geometry and Physics — From Plato to Hawking.”

Atiyah won the Fields Medal, mathematics’ highest prize, in 1966. He has served as master of Trinity College in Cambridge, president of the Royal Society, director of the Newton Institute, and Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford University.

Math and the movies
On Sundays and Tuesdays through October, the Pacific Film Archive and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute are co-hosting “CineMath,” a film series highlighting the role of math in everyday life and the most significant math breakthroughs of modern times.
The screenings continue on Oct. 20, 27, and 29. Each film is introduced by a noted mathematician, providing viewers with insights into how math has served as structure, metaphor, and story in films.
A schedule is available at Advance tickets may be purchased at the PFA box office or by phoning 642-5249.

For information on the celebration, see, or contact Michael Singer at 643-6142 or


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