More young fans showed up at Ngo Bao Chau’s and Cédric Villani’s talk at the French Institute in Hanoi (L’Espace) on Monday evening than its conference room can accommodate
Some were invited to come and sit on the stage behind the speakers.
Let’s make this a rock concert, said Eva Nguyen Binh, L’Espace director, who invited the world-renowned mathematicians to deliver a talk on how to inspire youths to study math.
Ngo Bao Chau and Cédric Villani, who both studied math at École Normale Supérieure in Paris, made quite attractive figures, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
Still in their early 40s, both sounded brilliant, with Cédric Villani, dubbed the “Lady Gaga of Mathematics” looking a bit more flamboyant, more French with his own stylish way of wearing a tie.
Both Chau and Villani said, to inspire young students to study math, teachers should be passionate about the subject themselves.
Passion, or motivation, is even more important than ability, said Villani, who is the director of the Henri Poincaré Institute, known as the Sorbonne of math, in Paris.
The second thing teachers can do, Chau said, is to give students problems that aren’t too easy, but just a bit difficult, to challenge them and make them feel satisfied once they figure out the solution.
As for what these two can say to encourage people to pursue math, it is the fact that math is applied everywhere in this age of technology.
Chau said hedge funds are also looking for candidates with PhDs in math to analyze economic data. The field of defense is another fertile soil for mathematicians.
Villani cited a Wall Street Journal study that consistently ranked “mathematician” as the best job in the world today.
Many people come and sit on the stage behind the speakers as the number of audience exceeds L’Espace's conference room accommodation. Photo credit: VietNamNet
Math applications are in fact so ubiquitous that Villani’s institute plans to open an applied math museum in the next five years to inform the public of this cultural aspect of math.
Chau said Vietnamese-French professor of physics Tran Thanh Van also has a plan to build a museum of science in Vietnam and will reserve a room for math.
Yet, when it comes to the ultimate, private reason for loving math, Chau said for him, it is because with math, he is able to create his own world, just like writers do with their characters.
As for Villani, math feels most familiar because in math, the solutions depend on himself only. He doesn’t have to rely on other people or the outside natural world to test whether his thoughts are right.
With math, we can test things ourselves.