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Why Russia has no outstanding mathematicians
Material posted: Publication date: 05-12-2017
From the Lenin hills in the South-West have a fantastic view on Russian capital. At the bottom of the Moscow river describes a steep arc around the Olympic stadium in 1980, the Kremlin — six kilometers. Above all this stands the pompous main building of Lomonosov University, the former for decades, a Mecca for mathematicians.

Here such luminaries as Andrei Kolmogorov, once gathered around him the brightest minds from all over the Soviet Union. The late fifties was on the faculty of mechanics and mathematics, briefly — in mathematics, the Golden age of Russian mathematics.

For example, Sergey Novikov graduated from this Department in 1960, and ten years later he became the first Russian who received the fields medal, the highest award for achievements in the field of mathematics.

Colleagues from the West crammed the Cyrillic alphabet to read the latest article from the East immediately after their publication, and not a few months in the English translation. In mathematics, the name sounded Russian scientists: Markov chain, Lyapunov exponent, equations of Chapman-Kolmogorov or the Voronoi diagram.

The rise of the theorists from the East was not accidental: throughout the country by means of mathematical Olympiads to seek out talent. At the annual international mathematical Olympiad, many students received gold medals.

The winners of these competitions, as Perelman or Stanislav Smirnov, turned out excellent scholars, were awarded medals of fields. Perelman was awarded in 2006 for the proof of the theorem of Poincare. Smirnov received the medal in 2010. They both went to school in the Soviet Union, and targeted support of talents in those days much given to them.

Boom mathematics and physics in the Soviet Union had economic and military reasons. The Communist party have repeatedly stated that scientific and technological progress is the engine of socialism, and that scientists and engineers should care about the welfare.

In competition with the United States, the country tried to keep up technologically, what else were good in the fifties and sixties. Someone who builds missiles and nuclear bombs or developing computer programs that will manage the missile defense, you need a smart head. And they supplied the elite universities of Moscow, Leningrad and Novosibirsk.

The Communist party conducted a campaign to interest young people in science. Professor in mathematics or physics had the country's highest authority. "This was not only prestigious, but also paid better than anyone, says mathematician of Russian descent Efim Zelmanov. — So the best and most intelligent people want to become mathematicians or physicists".

Besides, mathematics and physics were quite free of ideology. People who want to actually become historians, philosophers, musicians or artists chose natural Sciences, says Vladlen Timorin from the Independent University of Moscow.

In Moscow and Leningrad, it was believed that math is cool: it was not, for example, in Germany, where students preferred to argue about Mao, nuclear energy and ecology.

The Exodus after 1990, the year

Mathematics attracted many Russians, with Jewish roots, as the future owner of the fields medal Efim Zelmanov. At first there was almost no discrimination, but that all changed in the 70-ies, when the Russians with Jewish roots sometimes completely closed access to the universities. Zelmanov still got in the 80-ies place in the Institute of mathematics of the Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk, however, did not become a Professor.

Today little remains of the former glory of the Russian theorists. After the fall of the iron curtain in 1990 began a massive departure from which the country never recovered. In the USA only left about a thousand mathematicians. Many have long had a well-paid professorial, Zelmanov, which today conducts research in San Diego. There were many people who received citizenship in their new homeland.

The Congress of representatives of Russian universities do not play almost any role. At the 2014 meeting of the International mathematical Union in Seoul was only invited four speakers from Russia. And in 1986, the then Soviet Union sent a similar meeting in Berkeley 30 speakers.

More striking that such a successful support talent continues to exist, at least partially. The most difficult time for most high schools for highly gifted children is the period from 1988 to 2000, says Sergei Lando, Independent University of Moscow in an article about the Russian mathematical education. However, according to him, the level of "fell sharply". Virtually all universities in the country agree that mathematics students today come to College with much less knowledge than 80 years, says Landau.

"It was not a legal state"

Obviously, today much less Russian students interest in mathematics. "Young people today significantly more possibilities," explains Zelmanov. Now you can become a Manager or lawyer and earn a lot of money. "When I was young, such options were not. The one who wanted to be a businessman, was in jail. And legal state was not there".

And yet Zelmanov believes new times favorable, although mathematics is not so important. "It is good that people in Russia — many possibilities, as, for example, in the United States." Therefore, many intelligent Russians who previously would have become mathematicians, choosing the economy or the right. "And since they are smart, they will succeed," he says, smiling.

However, a mathematician can make a career in today's Russia. Arkady Volosh studied in the 80-ies of applied mathematics in Moscow. In 1997, he launched the Russian search engine "Yandex". Today, he is a billionaire.

By the way, the Russian roots has giant hi-tech from USA. The story began in 1979. Then the Russian mathematician, Michael Brin left the Soviet Union in the United States because of his Jewish origin he had no right to do research. He took with him and their five year old son Sergei. Later Sergey studied computer science and in 1998 with Larry page launched at Stanford University, the Google search engine.

Dambeck, Holger (Holger Dambeck)


Tags: Russia , science

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