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From a Life of Mathematics 2008
Detailed Report
  Of the various activities conducted at the Mathematical Sciences Foundation (MSF), the From a Life of Mathematics programme has a unique place. Under this programme, leading mathematicians of the world are invited by the Foundation. Apart from interacting with the faculty members, our eminent visitors deliver insightful lectures (usually centered on their own contributions to the subject) to stimulate young students and budding mathematicians. The striking aspect of the event is that students (undergraduate and postgraduate) interact with the ‘masters' in an extremely informal manner - over breakfasts, lunches & dinners; or during walks in the city.
 
  For this year's Life of Mathematics programme (Feb 25-29, 2008), the MSF had invited Prof. Marie-Francoise Roy . Prof. Roy is a reputed mathematician, at the University of Rennes 1, France, and had been the President of the French Mathematical Society during 2004-2007. Her research area is Real Algebraic Geometry (an area of research initiated by her and her collaborators), and she has published over 60 research papers, numerous expository articles, as well as co-authored two books on Real Algebraic Geometry. Recently, she has begun applying her theoretical discoveries to problems in Robotics and Epidemiology. Prof. Roy also has a deep engagement with social issues. She is a founding member of the French association for women in mathematics, Femmes et mathématiques . She is also associated with the organization Tarbiyya Tatali , which promotes interactions between France and Niger towards self-development in the latter country.
 
  During the programme, the following events were organized at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, New Delhi:
 
 
    Monday, February 25 Real Algebraic Geometry – for the undergraduate      Lecture by Prof. Roy
    Monday, February 25 Careers and Opportunities in and with Mathematics      Discussion chaired by Prof. Roy and Prof. Dinesh Singh
    Tuesday, February 26 Women in Mathematics      Seminar featuring Prof. Roy, Dr Geetha Venkataraman and Dr Radha Mohan
    Tuesday, February 26 Student Paper Presentations      Comments by Prof. Roy and Prof. Amber Habib
    Wednesday, February 27 History and Future of Mathematics – a personal perspective      Lecture by Prof. Roy
 
  This programme succeeded in creating and sustaining tremendous excitement among the students and faculty of Lady Shri Ram College, cutting across departments, and even drawing students from other colleges of Delhi University. The Seminar Room where it was conducted was always filled to capacity, with over 60 students occupying the seats, the floor, and crowding the door. Each part of the programme was followed by lengthy and animated discussions between Prof. Roy, the faculty, and the students. Students also vied to accompany our guest on her visits to various parts of Delhi.
 
  Algebraic Geometry is a complex subject that is usually considered too abstract to be explained to undergraduates. However, Prof. Roy put across the key ideas in a way that was accessible to a diverse audience comprising of students and teachers from Mathematics, Physics, and Computer Science. She provided motivations from Coordinate Geometry, Matrices and Polynomial Equations, which are central to the mathematics course taught at first year of the above disciplines. All through her lectures, the audience remained glued to their seats, asked questions, took notes and demanded additional information.
 
  A joint talk by Prof. Marie-Francoise Roy and Prof. Dinesh Singh on “Career Opportunities with Mathematics” also kept the audience on the edge of their seats. Prior to this lecture, most students thought that teaching is the only option available for a livelihood after a Mathematics degree. The talk was an eye opener for both kinds of people – ones who want to research all their lives and those who want to carve a lucrative career out of mathematics. The fact that Prof. Roy had recently turned down an extremely rewarding offer from Google was an inspiration for both sections of the audience. Students were enlightened about the role of Mathematics in leading technologies like search engines, data security, cancer detection, etc. Also, the function of Mathematics and Statistics in the financial industry was highlighted. A student remarked, “ Before this discussion, I was really blank about the career opportunities after graduation, but now I know about many fields which require a degree in mathematics.
 
  The seminar on “Women in Mathematics” featured presentations by Prof. Roy, Dr. Geetha Venkataraman and Dr. Radha Mohan. They discussed the lives of eminent women mathematicians like Emmy Noether, Ingrid Daubechies and others. Not only their contribution to the subject was discussed but also the hardships they faced due to being women. Statistics about the presence of women at different levels of the academic ladder were also considered (for both France and India). The news was not all encouraging --- e.g., in France, there has been a clear stagnation in these levels over the past decade. Prof. Roy felt that one of the contributory causes could be the conversion of women's institutions to co-educational ones in the name of progress. This seminar struck a particular chord with the audience, and was followed by an intense discussion of the problems faced by women, their likely causes, and avenues for improving the situation. A lecturer in Psychology spoke about her work on biases faced by girls in the classroom, while many students connected the general discussion to their personal experiences.
 
  This Life of Mathematics Programme was different to ones held in the past in one aspect – It offered college students a platform to present a topic on which they had worked for about two weeks. The jury comprising of Prof. Marie-Francoise Roy and Prof. Amber Habib had some insightful comments to make and gave plenty of food for thought to the students. Prof. Sanjeev Agrawal (Deputy Director, MSF) also gave the students valuable advice on how to pitch a presentation so that the key points stand out, maintain the audience's interest, and so on.
 
  The final programme on “The History and Future of Mathematics” began with a lecture by Prof. Roy on “Applications of Algebraic Geometry”. She detailed the research projects currently underway in France, and of which she is a part, on applications to Robotics, Medicine and Epidemiology. The Robotics project seemed to steal the limelight, people were mesmerized to learn how an abstract subject like Algebraic Geometry could be used to control the motion of a robot and to design configurations that provide maximum flexibility and reach. In epidemiology, the methods of Algebraic Geometry are providing new ways to model the spread of a disease. Another fascinating snippet was that her work in the history of the subject had provided insights into current problems, via the rediscovery of results forgotten for a century or more.
 
  The following comments by students, quite typical of the ones we have received, sum up the overwhelming success of our 2008 programme:
 
 
  “I would really like to have more of these programmes in my college. I believe it provides us with an excellent platform to interact with international figures in the area of maths and thus inspires us to do better. It also gives us an opportunity to venture beyond the class room and the prescribed texts”.
   
  “I would be highly obliged if our college organized more of such programmes. These programmes help us in learning a lot about the subject”.
   
  “This seminar was one of the best attended by me. It was really wonderful to attend the discussions by such highly qualified professors”.
 
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