I was very happy to receive an email yesterday announcing that the Fields Institute has established a symposium to honor the Fields Medalists. Please find the text of the announcement I received posted below:

 

FIELDS MEDAL SYMPOSIUM

The Fields Institute is delighted to announce the establishment of the Fields Medal Symposium. The Symposium will take place annually in Toronto at the Institute, celebrating the achievements of one of the recently announced Fields Medalists. The Fields Medal Symposium will be a three-day event featuring an address or a series of lectures for a general scientific audience by the Medalist, as well as lectures and panel discussion by  other invited participants on themes related to the Medalist’s work. The Symposium is intended also as an inspiration to young people, and will include public activity with the participation of high-school or undergraduate students. The Symposium will be promoted in the Canadian and international press, and will be broadcast live throughout the world via the Fields Institute’s interactive videoconferencing facilities.

The Fields Medal Symposium is endorsed by the International Mathematical Union. It will be inaugurated in October 2012, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Fields Institute. The first Medalist honoured in this way will be Ngo Bao Chau (University of Chicago, Fields Medal 2010). The program for the first Symposium will be organized by a Committee consisting of Jim Arthur (University of Toronto, Chair), Bill Casselman (University of British Columbia), Edward Frenkel (Berkeley) and Gerard Laumon (Orsay).

The Fields Medal is the world’s most prestigious prize in mathematics. It is awarded by the International Mathematical Union every four years, to two to four mathematicians (recently four). The Fields Medal, first awarded in 1936, and the Fields Institute are both named after John Charles Fields (1863–1932), who was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and was a faculty member at the University of Toronto. Fields took a strong interest in the global world of Mathematics, and endowed the Medal in order to create an award comparable to a Nobel Prize. (There is no Nobel Prize for Mathematics.) The awards, however, have an interesting difference. The Nobel Prize is usually awarded to mature scientists to crown their careers. The Fields Medal, on the other hand, is awarded to researchers at most forty years old. It is intended not only to crown pioneering achievements but also to encourage further visionary work.

The Fields Medalist honoured on the occasion of the Symposium will receive an honorarium of $25,000. The Fields Institute has been successful in raising private sponsorship support of the Fields Medal Symposium for aneinitial eight-year period. This funding will cover the honorarium, as well as promotion of the event and the Medalist’s expenses. The Institute will provide the venue for the Symposium and cover the expenses of other invited Symposium participants from its scientific budget. The initial eight-year sponsorship will enable the Symposium to become established and attract continued funding to build an endowment.

The annual Fields Medal Symposium will be one of the highest profile events in the global mathematics community. The Fields Institute is extremely grateful to the sponsors whose generous support has made the initiative possible. Following are the current private sponsors of the Symposium. The Institute is actively pursuing corporate sponsorships. The Institute welcomes further support of the Fields Medal Symposium, at any level, as well as any other inquiries about the program. More information about the Fields Institute can be found at http://www.fields.utoronto.ca .

Sponsors of the Fields Medal Symposium

Silver Level $100,000–199,000

  • James Stewart, Prof. Emeritus, McMaster University, text book author, donor of the Fields Institute Library

Bronze Level $25,000–99,000

  • Edward Bierstone, Fields Institute and the University of Toronto
  • George Elliott, University of Toronto and the Fields Institute
  • John R. Gardner
  • Philip Siller, BroadRiver Asset Management, L.P.

 

John Charles Fields was born in Hamilton Ontario in 1863, graduated from the University of Toronto in 1884, and got his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1887. Fields helped establish the National Research Council, the precursor to NSERC. Canadians should be proud that John Charles Fields diplomatically unified the International Mathematical Union during the time between WW1 and WW2 to create the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, known colloquially as the the Fields Medal. This award is regarded as the highest honor a mathematician can receive. It is often described as the Nobel Prize of Mathematics although I don’t like that moniker.

The Fields Medal is awarded to mathematicians under age 40 for outstanding discoveries. As a result, the Fields Medal often highlights emerging mathematical fields with recent breakthroughs made by a vibrant young researcher. The awarding of the Medal often energizes the research activity in these fields.

The Abel Prize was founded in 2003 by Norway with an initial investment of \$23M. How should one assess the value of the Nobel Prize system for the country of Sweden? How should Norway value the Abel Prize? Based on the prize amounts, Canada appears to value research differently than her northern neighbors.

A Public Proposal

A one-time-only Canadian investment of ~\$5M (assuming a ~5% return on investment) would generate enough interest to raise the value for 4 Fields Medals each valued at $250K given every 4 years. In the past, the IMU’s prize committee has sometimes awarded fewer than 4 medals so \$5M might generate a fund that sustains value against inflation. Through philanthropy or government investment (and subject to peer review), Canada should raise level of the Fields Medal.

(Why \$250K and not \$1M? The Fields Medal is awarded when a researcher is in full creative bloom, and before the age of 40 years old. The 40 year rule fundamentally distinguishes the Fields Medal from the Nobel Prize. My view is that the award should be substantial but not life-altering, assuming a typical academic salary and lifestyle. )

Canada should leverage its connection to the Fields Medal starting at the next International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul in August 2014:

  • The Prime Minister of Canada should award the medals at the next ICM to be held in Seoul, Korea in August 2014.
  • The raised award amounts and the participation by Canada’s government will generate interest in mathematics, the Fields Medal and in Canada, as a country that values the advancement of knowledge.
  • Canada’s mathematical research institutes (PIMS, BIRS, Fields, Perimeter, CRM) should jointly organize a year of concentration targeting the rapidly developing areas highlighted by the Medals during calendar year 2015. The four month interlude between the announcement of the Medals at the ICM and the beginning of 2015 can be used to plan the programs. Summer schools should be designed to bring advanced undergraduate and graduate students into the stream of ideas and discoveries highlighted by the medals. In principle, funds for these activities are already committed by NSERC through its long term commitment to the institutes.
  • Canada should aim higher and build new mathematics education practices intertwining research universities and the public schools using interactive technologies towards long-term goals like:
    • Canada should set a national strategy to win the International Mathematical Olympiad. Milestones: consistent top ten finishes within five years; top five finishes thereafter.
    • Canada should rejuvenate K-12 enriched mathematics education toward growing (not importing) a Fields Medalist in the next 12 years.
    • Canada should produce a female Fields Medalist.

The International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, colloquially named after its Canadian founder John Charles Fields as the Fields Medal, is the world’s top honor for mathematical advancement. Canada should make the value of this award commensurate with its prestige and make long term plans to leverage that investment.


Unfortunately, the window for public submissions to the six member expert panel reviewing Canada’s federal research and development policy has closed. Nevertheless, I hope that this proposal is considered by that review panel and by the Science, Technology and Innovation Council. The recent budget announcements by the Harper and McGuinty governments include stunning investments in research on the brain (\$100M), the genome (\$65M), optics (\$45M), the Perimeter Institute (Federal \$50M, Ontario \$50M) and the SR&ED program (~\$4B, yes, Billion) giving tax breaks to business claiming R&D expenses. Research and development investments by governments, like the one proposed here, and those recently announced should be made strategically and through a transparent and robust peer review system.