Science Thursday: Fields Medal

Yay, more writing!!! I finally made it to my third series. Remember people – writing is a marathon, no a sprint. Though sometimes you do start just running like a madman with your arms flailing in the air and those around you begin to question your well-being. On that note, welcome to Science Thursday! I didn’t want things here to be skewed too heavily towards any one category, so I figured with Poetry Tuesday, Pluggadamunt, Science Thursday, and my other unscheduled ramblings, I would have enough space to have everything covered. I might add more series, I might not, I don’t know. I am an unrefined being and I roll with it (I am currently drinking applesauce out of its little cup. “Refined” might as well be my middle name).

So about Science Thursday. Back in ye olde days, science was a broad term that meant a body of knowledge, and I plan to keep to that definition here. This will allow me to write about things like history, philosophy, business, etc. without having to title this series something grotesque like Academia of the Past and Present on Thursdays, because I know no one would read that. It sounds awkward and it’s grammatically incorrect. 😦

Onto the actual science part. This week’s topic was inspired by my Abstract Algrebra class. In a room full of Senior math majors, I was the only one other than the teacher who knew that the fields medal was. That would be the equivalent of a Physicist not knowing what the Nobel Prize is: shocking and unacceptable. I don’t mean to sound harsh. Well, I do actually, but in a way that promotes self-awareness of one’s field, not in a way that hurts people’s feelings. With that in mind, please, read on.

The Fields Medal is called the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics” for good reason. The Nobel Prize categories are Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Peace, and Economic Studies, so unless a mathematician is doing great work in one of those areas, he or she would be ineligible for the Nobel. However, the Fields Medal is specifically for mathematics, and is just as prestigious, though there are some marked differences.

The Nobel Prize is awarded annually to a single individual in each category, though there are exceptions (a category may have up to three recipients or laureates). The laureates are chosen much like the Oscars: the Nobel committee sends out a list of nominees to about 3,000 people (or to governments in the case of the Peace Prize), and they take a vote. A fancy dinner is involved. And you get to visit Sweden.

The Fields Medal is awarded every four years at the International Congress of the International Mathematical Union (held in various places) to two, three, or four (never just one) people not over forty who have demonstrated remarkable work in their field. If you go to the Wikipedia page, you find that the medalist have been awarded for work in things like Reimann surfaces and complex geometries and topologies and crazy things with weird names. I can help you out by saying that most of those categories lie in the field of Complex Mathematics. Not “Complex” in the traditional sense, but in the mathematical one.

In Mathematics, “complex” means that you’re working with imaginary numbers, meaning the square root of -1. If you’re unfamiliar, the square root of -1 is strange because a square root separates a number into two equal factors (Remember factor trees? Man those were the days). Unfortunately, there’s no way to break up -1 into two equal factors,  so an Italian fellow by the name of Gerolamo Cardano said “Screw it! Just call the damn thing i” sometime in the 16th century, and that was that. Okay so maybe he didn’t say it exactly that way, but you can’t prove that beyond reasonable doubt, so I’m sticking to my story. (If you want to learn more about i, you can check out the book An Imaginary Tale: The Story of [the Square Root of Minus One])

This past year, the Fields Medal was awarded to four people: Artur Avila, Manjul Bhargava, Martin Hairer, and Maryam Mirzakhani. I’m going to focus on the first and last person, because they are the most interesting to me, and I make the rules here.

Artur Avila is a Brazilian/French mathematician who won the Medal for ” his profound contributions to dynamical systems theory, which have changed the face of the field, using the powerful idea of renormalization as a unifying principle.” That’s a big friggin deal. Dynamical systems theory is used EVERYWHERE. Whenever you see people on TV predicting something kind of outrageous with a mathematical function, 9 times out of 10 that’s a dynamical system. Dynamical systems model things with respect to time. And I say things because what they model is so broad you can’t narrow it down to a specific category. Those earthy people who predict how many of [insert animal] will come back each year? Dynamical Systems. Physics? Pretty much all dynamical systems. Avila is also the first Latin American to win the Medal. So Kudos to you, man. 🙂

Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman (and first Iranian) ever to be awarded the Fields Medal. Oh, and she’s a professor at Standford, which I guess is impressive or whatever. She was awarded the Medal “for her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces,” which is a fancy way of saying she made a major contribution to the understanding of the symmetry of curved surfaces (Symmetry is a huge deal in Mathematics. So are curved surfaces). An article on Stanford’s website suggests that her research has major implications in Physics and Quantum Field Theory, which is pretty baller.

Mirzakhani is a standout kind of special because she is talented in many diverse specialties of mathematics. In general, in Math you’re either an Algebra person, a Calculus person, an Analysis (statistics) person, or a Geometry person. She is all four. It makes her kind of a magical golden unicorn of Mathematics. She’s also super pretty. Although screw that reporter lady for suggesting that men are genetically better at math. That’s ridiculous and scientifically inaccurate. Keep to the facts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your first taste of Science Thursday. I’ll admit, I enjoyed writing this much more than I thought I would. I’m looking forward to finding more things to write about and more science-y things to share with you.


Plug of the Month: Michelle Phan

I’m starting something new today. If you haven’t already guessed, it’s a monthly plug. Once a month I get to tell you all about something I really like and why I think you should really like it too. Also, if you say the title really fast, it sounds like ‘Pluggadamunt’, which is fun for me. I might try to make that a new word. maybe. It sounds like some kind of soft squishy creature.

Nothing is off limits for Pluggadamunt. Movies, stores, people, books, food, TV shows, and anything else that comes to mind. This is going to be my fun time, and maybe along the way you’ll be introduced to something new that you absolutely love. Yay!

This month’s plug is YouTube star Michelle Phan. I would say that she was my gateway drug of YouTube videos, because before I found her the amount of time I spent on YouTube was reasonable, but now…

Michelle started out filming basic makeup tutorials on her laptop back in 2007, and now she’s a millionaire with her own makeup line through L’Oreal. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with her videos.

I think this video from 2011 is appropriate for the season. This would fall into the category of one of her full-face day looks. She also has natural, subtle, graphic, night, special occasion, costume, and skincare tutorials. And that’s just for makeup. In recent years Michelle’s added fashion, hair, how-to, and vlog tutorials (there, I think that covers all of them). The products she uses are extremely varied in cost – I’ve seen her use everything for Lancome and high end makeup to using things she has in her kitchen (she has a tutorial for a kitty litter face mask, which a little more adventurous than I’m willing to go).

I’ll admit, in general I don’t wear a lot of makeup. When I was in grade school, I had really bad acne and having makeup on my face just made it worse. The most I would be caught with was eyeliner and mascara, because my eyes weren’t red and splotchy, and keeping the focus there seemed like a good idea to me. Now that I’m a grown up and I’ve had a very good dermatologist fix my skin, I keep to pretty much the same routine, but if I can find an excuse to, it’s straight to YouTube. I’m all about that Romantic Blush for date night.

The main reason I watch Michelle’s videos (and the reason she’s such a success) is less about the makeup (though she does such a good job) and more about her personality. She makes her videos out of no obligation but that of her love for the art. She believes make-up is a form of self-expression, and she strives to help women (and girls) find their self and express it. She also takes time to talk about personal things going on in her life. She’s very quick to share her triumphs because, as she says, she would have no success without her viewers. Also, she’s kind of a geek, and I love that!

So how does a girl make millions making makeup tutorials? By being a friggin tank, that’s how. Michelle Phan started out with nothing but a laptop and a dream, which she grew and nurtured until she made it big. She’s an inspiration with the way that she did what she loved to inspire others to find their own inner-beauty. If you don’t believe me, take a gander at her Draw My Life video:

If you skipped the video, you should at least know this: she says that she likes the idea of makeup because it’s like creating your own superhero mask. Want to know why she needs a superhero mask? Go watch the video 😛

In 2013 she joined with L’Oreal and launched her own makeup line, which you can find at I bought her concealer several months ago out of loyalty and as a cover up for my tattoo (my ink is in a prominent spot, and he claimed that the concealer was highly pigmented). I can’t say that the concealer worked as a tattoo cover up, but I wouldn’t blame that fully on the product. The ink in the tattoo is black, which is hard to cover up anyway. On my face, however, it’s wonderful. Yesterday my mom said that she was glad that the dark circles under my eyes had faded, and my first thought was “Good job, Michelle.”

I could go on and on about Michelle’s many positive attributes and accomplishments, but most of her work speaks for itself, so if your interested, you can check out her YouTube channel, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, website, or makeup line (just click on the word :)).

And if you’re still in doubt of Michelle’s awesomeness, here she is being cute and and adorable and using her celebrity status for a good cause.