Published on Việt Nam News’ monthly edition Outlook Magazine September issue.
Dedicated this article to my mentor Mỹ Hà Nguyễn. Without her support and guidance, I would have never been able to pull it off. I am so blessed.
Mathematician inspires quest for knowledge
The winners of one of the most prestigious awards in the fields of math, Professor Ngô Bảo Châu has been celebrated as a national hero.
By Lê Quỳnh Anh
For a country with a tradition that places great importance on education, the recent awarding of one of the most prestigious awards in mathematics has been seen as extremely encouraging to all Vietnamese students and researchers.
As one of the four winners this year of the Fields Medal, the closest thing the field of math has to the Nobel Prize, Professor Ngô Bảo Châu has also made a nation proud and provided new impetus for efforts to improve Việt Nam’s education system.
The Vietnamese-born and naturalised French mathematician won the award for his work on proving a proposition, or fundamental lemma, that underlies a three-decade effort by mathematicians to link geometry and number theory.
Ten days after Ngô Bảo Châu, a professor at the Université Paris-Sud in Orsay, received the Fields medal, a grand ceremony televised live across the nation was held to welcome the mathematician in Hà Nội.
Speaking to the audience of 4,000 people, the 38-year-old math professor was in high spirits.
“I see the pride sparkle in each young man and woman in this audience, and feel the happiness spread across the country, which in turn magnifies the pride in my soul,” Ngô told the packed auditorium at the Mỹ Đình National Convention Centre.
Winning the Fields award represents years of hard work for Ngô, the first recipient of this medal born and raised in a developing country. Since 1936, the award, named after John Charles Fields, has been given to up to four people every four years by the International Mathematical Union.
In layman’s terms, Ngô’s basic achievement has been to prove what mathematicians refer to as the Fundamental Lemma (FL). It is seen as the key to revealing and understanding a far bigger scientific picture, as it has relevance to the real world, including high-energy physics and computer science. Last year, Ngô’s achievement was selected by Time magazine as one of the 10 top scientific discoveries of 2009.
In the world of figures, a lemma is a proven proposition used as a stepping stone to a larger result, rather than as a statement in itself. There is no formal distinction between a lemma and a theorem, only one of usage and convention.