University of Texas at Austin

Friday, July 27, 2012

Crystal Math

When Alessio Figalli was named one of the winners, in June 2012, of the prestigious European Mathematical Society prize, his first reaction was gratitude for winning the prize, which is awarded every four years to 10 young European mathematicians who’ve made outstanding contributions to their field.

Figalli’s second thought was that it was a good day for Italy, since among the other prize-winners was another native of the country.

Alessio Figalli, a 2012 winner of the European Mathematical Society prize.

Alessio Figalli, a 2012 winner of the European Mathematical Society prize.

“Before us there was only one other Italian in the history of the prize, so we tripled our numbers,” said Figalli, a professor of mathematics at The University of Texas at Austin.

His third thought was that having two Italian winners and no winners from Spain was a bit of compensation, since only the day before his beloved Italian national soccer team had been thumped 4-0 by the Spanish in the UEFA European Football Championship.

This story on prize-winning UTexas mathematician Alessio Figalli comes from Daniel Oppenheimer in the College of Natural Sciences. This story is posted on Texas Science.

“The day after the EMS prize announcement there was an Italian blog that ran a headline that said, ‘Italy Defeats Spain 2-0.’ Of course it would have been better if we’d won at football too.”

That Figalli reacts so humbly and humorously to a major prize—many past EMS prize-winners have gone on to win the Fields Medal, which is highest distinction in the world for mathematicians under the age of 40—is evidence, first, of his humility and sense of humor.

“He’s just a great guy, a wonderful colleague, and someone who does a lot in the department,” said Alan Reid, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Pennzoil Company Regents Professor in Mathematics.

It is also, however, evidence of how commonplace such recognition has become in the short time Figalli has been on the planet. He earned his Ph.D. at the age of 23. By the following year he was a tenured professor at the Ecole Polytechnique outside Paris. In 2009, he came to The University of Texas at Austin as a tenured associate professor, and for the academic year 2009-10 held one of the university’s prestigious Donald D. Harrington Fellowships. In 2011, at the age of 27, he was named a full professor.

To read the rest of the story, go to Texas Science.

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