Undergraduate mathematicians

The 2007 AMS prizes were announced back in january. In the undergraduate student category, the Morgan prize, the winner is yet again a student from MIT (for the third year in a row!), with yet again an amazing publication record, Daniel M. Kane.

It’s a very interesting phenomenom these undergrads with high quality research-level contributions. I heard this was common place in the former USSR, and still is the case in Russia today (perhaps to a lesser extent?).

On the other hand it certainly doesn’t happen in France, where even the best students from the ENS don’t start publishing before graduating, including those who won a gold medal at the Olympiads. There must be some cultural aspects which somehow refrain them from blossoming early, possibly a big lack of dialogue between university researchers and high school and prépa teachers…

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2 Responses to “Undergraduate mathematicians”

  1. sirix Says:

    Still, comparing lists of famous alumni of MIT and ENS shows that it’s not clear whether one system is better than the other (in Fields medalists it’s 8:0). Here’re my thoughts on similar subject.

  2. thomas1111 Says:

    Sorry for letting your comment in only today, I had troubles with the spam system… 😦

    You’re right that comparing the lists of alumni doesn’t go in favour of MIT. More generally it’s also true that most of what these undergraduates in america publish is about topics which require a fresh look on the problem more than a lot of background, like combinatorics or number theory. (At least one of them, Ciprian Manolescu, is different having done works on Seiberg-Witten theory but he’s Romanian and moved to the US after high school I think so it doesn’t count.)

    As for your thoughts that the Polish education system is not good beacause no Pole got a Fields medal yet, I agree there must be something to do about it, but I also think there are historical reasons that France got many Fields medals: Bourbaki. I don’t like the Bourbaki books at all but it’s true that it created a framework which made it easier to make discoveries (Serre, Grothendieck, Schwartz and Thom were all direct children of Bourbaki). And the more recent medalists Connes, Lions, Yoccoz, Lafforgue can be seen as grand-children, i.e. in the 1960-70s when these guys studied there were still a very strict spirit about doing maths.

    But now things have changed quite a lot. For example Werner’s medal is due both to the fact that he is very good and that the collaborators whith whom he got his results are over 40 and so couldn’t get the medal themselves.

    Actually I would not be surprised at all if there were much less french medalists in the future.

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