How Math Got Its ‘Nobel’ (The New York Times)

This weekend the New York Times told the story of the Fields Medal, one of the highest prizes in mathematics that is somewhat shrouded in myth:

On Wednesday in Seoul, the International Congress of Mathematicians will announce the winners of the Fields Medal. First awarded in Oslo in 1936, the medal is given every four years to two to four mathematicians. It is considered the “Nobel Prize” of mathematics (even the organizers of the congress call it that), filling a gap left by Alfred Nobel, who did not include mathematics among the prizes endowed on his death in 1896.

Many mathematicians will tell you that Nobel omitted mathematics from his prizes to spite the Swedish mathematician Gosta Mittag-Leffler, a rival, and that the Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields created the award that bears his name to correct the omission. But this is a myth that needs debunking… Continue reading.

While you’re waiting for the results from Seoul, why not browse courses from the Mathematics Department on OCW?

UPDATE: Congratulations to Maryam Mirzakhani, Artur Avila, Manjul Bhargava, and Martin Hairer! Read more about the winners.

Profile of Edward DeLong (PNAS)

Photograph of Prof. Edward DeLong

Prof. Edward DeLong. Photograph by L. Barry Hetherington.

If you flip through the new issue of the PNAS, you’ll notice a profile of MIT professor Edward DeLong. DeLong is known for his work in marine microbiology, and he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2008. The article begins with his youthful ocean adventures:

Every year, gray whales travel up and down the Pacific coast, migrating between the Bering Sea and Baja California. In the mid-1970s, Northern California amateur skin diver Edward DeLong tried to swim out to meet them. With his sights set on some of the ocean’s largest creatures, DeLong was oblivious to the microecosystem swirling around him in the cool water. Instead, his fascination for the vast and mysterious ocean impelled him to reach for the huge, shadowy whales in the distance.

But the unseen marine world—the microorganisms that were then largely unknown to DeLong and to science—became the ultimate object of his fascination. Today, DeLong is a marine microbiologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Over the years, he has probed genetic clues to uncover long-held secrets of the sea, including the composition and function of microbial communities from Hawaii to Antarctica. DeLong has learned that studying a reservoir of life as large and diverse as the ocean can lead to unexpected discoveries. “We’re continually being surprised,” he says. Continue reading at PNAS.

Prof. DeLong teaches an introductory course at MIT called Ecology I: The Earth System. You can peruse the course’s syllabus, lecture notes, project, and more on OCW.

MIT AMPS wins an Emmy!

Most of the video you see on MIT OpenCourseWare was recorded by our talented colleagues at MIT Academic Media Production Services (AMPS). This past weekend, AMPS won the Arts/Entertainment category at the 37th Boston/New England Emmy Awards for their 30-minute documentary “Awakening: Evoking the Arab Spring through Music.” 

Here’s the full-length video.

Congratuations to everyone at AMPS, and in particular to the “Awakening”  team: Lawrence Gallagher, producer; Chris Boebel, documentary director; Bob Comiskey, performance director; Jean Dunoyer, film editor; Craig Milanesi, technical director; Anthony Di Bartolo, audio engineer.

Prof. Alan Guth Awarded Kavli Prize

Prof. Alan Guth missed an important phone call this morning:

The winners of the Kavli Prize were announced this morning at the World Science Festival, and congratulations are due to MIT physics professor Alan Guth! He shares the astrophysics award with Andrei D. Linde of Stanford and Alexei A. Starobinsky of the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics in Moscow, Russia.

There are also prizes in nanoscience and neuroscience.

The announcement came as a surprise to Prof. Guth who, according to the New York Times story about the prize, missed the phone call which would have informed him of his win because “his cellphone was not working.”

If you’d like to learn more about Prof. Guth’s teaching, see our blog post about his courses on OCW.

MIT Sloan Excellence in Teaching Awards

Last week, MIT Sloan School of Management honored a few of its faculty and students with their annual Excellence in Teaching Awards. Two of these great instructors have courses on OCW, and we encourage you to check them out:

Prof. Andrew Lo, winner of the Samuel M. Seegal Prize:

Prof. Leigh Hafrey, one of two faculty named Sloan School Teachers of the Year:

Sloan faculty Prof. Georgia Perakis and Prof. Juanjuan Zhang recently won the prestigious Jamieson Teaching Awards. Congratulations to all of the winners!

Congratulations to MIT’s Newest National Academy of Sciences Members

The National Academy of Sciences has announced the election of its new members, and among them are four MIT faculty! Congratulations to Daron Acemoglu, Emery Brown, Alan Grossman, Timothy Grove, and all the new members.

Two of the new members, Daron Acemoglu and Tim Grove, have courses on OCW you can visit to learn about their fields of expertise:

Daron Acemoglu

Timothy Grove

Poverty Action Lab Scholars Win Albert O. Hirschman Prize

Profs. Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, along with the Abdul Latif Jamell Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT (which the two co-direct), have been awarded the 2014 Albert O. Hirschman Prize!

The Statement of Commendation, which announced the winners, says “Professors Banerjee and Duflo are receiving the Hirschman Prize not only for creating and building J-PAL but also for their own significant contributions to both research and practice. They share Albert Hirschman’s passion for promoting economic development and alleviating poverty and its disastrous effects on peoples’ lives.”

According to their webpage, the prize “is awarded by the Social Science Research Council to scholars who have made outstanding contributions to international, interdisciplinary social science research, theory, and public communication, in the tradition of German-born American economist Albert Hirschman.”

Profs. Duflo and Banerjee teach 14.73 The Challenge of World Poverty, which is available on OCW. The course site includes video lectures, writing advice, and a This Course at MIT section.