Cédric VillaniMathematician, recipient of the Fields Medal
The Poetry of Science
‘He looks like he’s just wandered in from the 19th century, speaks English with an accent that rivals that of Hercule Poirot, and has the physical dexterity of Manuel from Fawlty Towers, but he also happens to be one of the greatest mathematicians alive, a winner of the Fields medal, mathematics’ answer to the Nobel prize, handed out every four years.’
Newspaper The Guardian recently used these words to describe the French mathematician Cédric Villani, the director of the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris and professor at the Université Claude Bernard in Lyon. In December 2013, Villani was elected to the French Academy of Sciences.
Villani’s main research interests are in kinetic theory (Boltzmann and Vlasov equations and their variants), and optimal transport and its applications. After receiving the Fields Medal, he has been playing the informal role of ambassador for the French mathematical community to media and society in general. His books for non-specialists, including ‘Théorème vivant’ (2012) and ‘La maison des mathématiques’ (2014), have been translated in many languages and found wide audiences.
‘There is a famous quote about mathematics being the poetry of sciences,’ Villani says in The Guardian. ‘And there really is something in it. First the enormous role of inspiration: inspiration is the key to mathematical work. You need both inspiration and rigor… and mathematicians and poets are people who believe in the power of words, of concepts and giving names to concepts.’