- There will be an awards ceremony November 8 for the 2016 Breakthrough Prizes, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, and airing live on the National Geographic Channel, later to run on FOX. The next day at Berkeley there will be a Breakthrough Prize Symposium, featuring talks by the winners and others.
In physics the prizes to be awarded include the big $3 million prize and up to three $100,000 prizes for young researchers. The symposium physics schedule lists as speakers “2016 Breakthrough Prize Laureates”, with the plural perhaps a hint that more than one person will be sharing the $3 million. The first three rounds of these mostly went to string theorists but there seems to have been some sort of policy change last year (the award went to Supernova observations indicating an accelerating cosmology). I have no idea at all who they’ll choose this year. The theorist speakers discussing the future of the subject at the symposium are Arkani-Hamed, Hall and Bousso, a clean sweep for multiverse mania.
On the mathematics side, there’s also a $3 million prize and up to three $100,000 prizes. The symposium schedule lists “2016 Breakthrough Prize Laureate”, so maybe a hint there’s just one in math.
- In other news on the prize front, the APS will now be awarding a Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research, with the first one going to Edward Witten.
- The Wall Street Journal has published a response to the Gross/Witten piece advocating a Chinese “Great Collider”. Physicist Jonathan Katz describes particle physics as a “dying”, “moribund” subject. He argues that research funding should go to “tabletop experiments”, like for instance the ones he does.
- The new AMS Notices is out, with a piece by Loring Tu on the origin of the theorem due to Atiyah-Bott often known as the Woods Hole Fixed Point Theorem. Tu does a great job of explaining this beautiful mathematics, as well as the details of the controversy over Shimura’s role in sparking this by a conjecture. He doesn’t much discuss Shimura’s memoir, which I wrote about here, which includes the claim that Serre attacked him out of jealousy about Shimura’s conjecture. I’ve never really understood Shimura’s point of view on this, since usually mathematicians value theorems over conjectures, and it is clearly Atiyah-Bott who had the theorem here.
- From David Mumford’s blog I learned about an experimental neurobiology paper co-authored by Atiyah. It is quite interesting, but even more interesting is the blog entry by Mumford that it inspired. Mumford is one of the greats of algebraic geometry, and he gives a fascinating characterization of the different sorts of ways in which mathematicians pursue research. Mathematics done at the highest level involves strikingly different personalities and research strategies, which Mumford characterizes as four different tribes: “explorers”, “alchemists”, “wrestlers” and “detectives”. If you’re at all interested in how mathematics research is done, this is highly recommended reading.
- Also recommended, if you’re interested in the overlap of physics and philosophy, is a new piece by Massimo Pigliucci on String Theory vs. the Popperazi.
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