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Potential value of lectures

  1. Nov 3, 2005 #1


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    I am getting up in age and am often tired and discouraged about how little I know after all these years and how unlikely it is I will ever master even the foundations of my own subject before I retire.

    However I heard a talk Tuesday by the great Jean Pierre Serre that somewhat rejuvenated me.

    In a colloquium at Emory, he surveyed the whole panorama of topics surrounding the number of solutions of equations over finite fields, and the relationship this reveals between prime numbers and solutions of equations in integers.

    He brought in polynomials, power series, Fourier series, Dirchlet series, algebraic varieties, algebraic topology, group representations, eigenvalues, frobenius endomorphisms, etale and l - adic cohomology, Weil conjectures, Mordell conjecture, modularity of elliptic curves and of representations, Langlands program,.... all to illuminate the fundamental study of prime numbers, and solutions of simple equations like x^2 - x - 1. and he did it without even defining any of these things.

    I thought it was the most enjoyable talk I had ever heard in my life, and I have heard some good ones.

    It inspired me and made me feel I simply could not afford to continue to avoid learning about more of these tools, especially group representations, if I was interested in understanding the basic phenomena in number theory. It also helped that he was 79 years old and still going strong.

    This kind of experience cannot be had from books, nor self study, nor research on the internet. We could even ask him questions.

    One must have some exposure to and contact with real live vibrant practitioners of mathematics to feel and appreciate the essence of what they do, the unity of it, the scope, and the excitement.

    Even on a momentous occasion like this, there were fewer than 100 people in the auditorium, plenty of empty seats, and the next day in his seminar there were only 15 of us.

    I urge you all to go listen to talks by good scientists when you have a chance, and ask them questions. These opportunities arise at every university from time to time. Seize them.

    best wishes,

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 3, 2005 #2
    My mom took me to see Stephen Hawking 5 years ago who appeared in San Jose after making a trip to see his buddy down at CalTech. I was only seventeen at the time so my understanding of physics was quite limited, though the speech was for the general public. I believed it was called the "Universe in a Nutshell", I think based on the title of one of his books.

    It's funny I remember everyone wore suits and ties to this while I wore jeans and a t-shirt, and beyond this my mom got us front row seats.

    It seemed he had prepared all the dialogue in advance (of course) and clicked the text when he was ready to speak it through the computer. At the end he took a few questions, and here you learn it takes him along time to type.

    Maybe a little different from the talk you mentioned, but quite rewarding nonetheless.
  4. Nov 3, 2005 #3


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    i also enjoyed hearing stephen hawking "speak" at ga tech a while back. it was the first time it had occurred to me that one could let time have complex values as well as real ones. very exciting to me.

    it always excites to hear a simple idea that i might have thought myself of but didn't.
  5. Nov 3, 2005 #4
    I'm in highschool, so I have only attended two lectures (in a sense it was one) in my life.

    They were by Gerard 'T Hooft at ASU. Me and my friend (who also visits this forum) were the youngest people there O.O. There were college students sitting next to us, and the rest of the people attending the lecture seemed to have been at least in their 40's.
  6. Nov 4, 2005 #5
    I saw Charles Leedham-Green lecture a couple of days ago at a group theory conference/workshop celebrating his 65th birthday at a talk titled "Apologia pro vita sua (defense of ones life)", he was amazing and inspiring. During the other seminars of the workshop, he'd often ask a question and after given a reply he'd stare out the window while he was deep in thought. I was suprised today when the book I was studying was written by him (and was related to his talk, p-groups of maximal class).
    Just like mathwonk said, keep a close eye on the seminar listings at your college. I knew the least out of all the people who attended, but I still signed up for the dinner as well - and got the chance to talk to the head of department, among other people. Get yourself recognized among your department.
    Gah, sorry, im not good with writing posts. Have had this open for a good 2 hours while doing something else. Will write some more later maybe. :confused:
  7. Nov 5, 2005 #6
    I attended a talk given by a guy from Seagate. He talked about the new way the company was doing to manufacture hard drives. I didn't know what he was talking about at all.
  8. Nov 5, 2005 #7


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    I attended a talk by Walter Greiner. It was the "Einstein Lecture" meant for a general audience, but I guess he didnt know that so his talk was highly technical and I didnt understand a word. Neither did most people in the audience. After a full fleged mathematical presentation of his work on antimatter, a kid got up and asked him "What is a quark?".
  9. Nov 6, 2005 #8


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    that kid will go far. I suspect that a lot of serre's audience did not enjoy his talk as much as i did, since it drew on about everything I have learned in my 40 year math career.

    but so what? I have also gone to many talks that did not do much for me, if I can say this one was the most enjoyable I have heard in 40 years.

    keep going, you will hit some that are perfect and some that are way out of sight. one of my colleagues advises ghis students to take something to work on when they get lost.

    i prefer to suggest you listen on "another level". i.e. try to guess where he is going, or why he/she might be using the approach he is. recall the original question and rerflect on what techniques are being used - is calculus being used to study number theory? if so, make a not to find out later how that works.
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