- Professor Emeritus

- Université de Versailles St-Quentin (Paris-Saclay)

In 1959, the prominent Hungarian-American physicist Eugene Wigner gave a lecture, which was published a year later. Its title was “On the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics. Wigner, who was one of the physicists who made a major contribution to quantum mechanics in the 1920’s and 1930’s, was granted the Nobel prize in 1963 for his contributions to the “theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles.”

Since Galileo, in the early XVIIth century wrote that “the book of nature is written in mathematical language, and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single word of it; without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth”, the importance of mathematics in understanding the physical world around us is well acknowledged. It contributed in crucial ways to the development of physics in XVIIIth and XIXth centuries, and reached new heights with the emergence of quantum mechanics. Wigner’s 1959 lecture is a reflection, thirty years later, of his own amazement when he observed the almost miraculous role of obscure mathematical theories in the new physics.

Wigner could have mentioned computer science or economics as yet other evidences of the powers of mathematics, since those fields had already reached a stage of maturity, but not biology, where the role of mathematics has been growing only recently, or climate science, whose importance was not as overwhelming as it is today, but in which mathematics provides essential modeling tools.

The lecture will present some examples of mathematics’ effectiveness, ranging from very simple to more advanced instances, keeping the presentation accessible to school-aged students. I will discuss whether it is “unreasonable”, and show that eye-catching mathematical geniuses rely on a wide community of active and productive mathematicians: there are many ways in which ordinary women and men can happily contribute to mathematics and science in general.

- PhD (doctorat d’État) in Mathematics, Université Paris-Diderot
- Graduate of École Normale Supérieure, Paris

Organization/Institution | Position | Period |
---|---|---|

CNRS | Researcher | - |

MIT, Rutgers University | Visiting Professor | - |

IAS-Princeton | Visiting Scholar | - |

Société Mathématique de France | Vice-President | 1997-1999 |

Animath | Founding President | 1998-2017 |

Initiative for Science in Europe | President | 2017-present |

- Lie theory in Mathematics
- Development of Mathematics in France since 1870

- Vice-President, Euroscience (2012-2018)