Skip to main content

IMU-Net 12: July 2005

A Bimonthly Email Newsletter from the International Mathematical Union 
Editor: Mireille Chaleyat-Maurel, Universit&eacute René Descartes, Paris, France


Mathematics for Development?

Most of us by now are familiar with the critical role of science and technology as primary drivers of economic development. Economists began to clarify the role of new knowledge in economic productivity soon after World War II, beginning with the pioneering work of Robert Solow. Since then, many other scholars have estimated the rate of return on public investments in S&T, which range from 20 to 67%; calculations of the social rate of return are as high as 110%. The power of basic research is even more apparent when one recalls how often its applications have led to new industries of great financial consequence. One thinks of the Internet (from basic research in communications networks), biotechnology (from basic research on the molecular mechanisms of DNA); the laser (from basic research on the interaction of light with atoms); transistors and integrated circuits (from basic research on the atom by Heisenberg and the development of quantum mechanics by Schrodinger). We must pause here to emphasize that mathematics is by no means an “applied” science at its heart. Indeed, mathematicians have a kind of pride at inhabiting an elegant, abstract world that often seems remote from the everyday. Mathematical concepts have a mysterious esthetic quality; mathematical symbols are as hard to grasp for most people as hieroglyphics or clouds.

However, the world of mathematics seems to have entered a new age of interactivity with the other sciences, as Martin Groetschel wrote in this space in the May issue. The attempt to understand the extreme complexities of string theory, for example, has led a group of theoretical physicists deep into mathematics, beyond traditional mathematical physics. The growing importance of cryptography to the Internet has led theoretical computer scientists to the elusive concept of “efficient computation.” One of the fastest-growing new partnerships is that between mathematicians and biologists in neuroscience, computational biology, immunology, epidemiology, drug design, and other areas.

A number of mathematicians, including Mohamed Hassan, Jacob Palis (former Secretary and President of IMU), and myself been involved in an effort called the Millennium Science Institute (MSI), which seeks to strengthen science and technology in the developing world. The African Mathematics MSI has been designed not only to strengthen graduate education but also to prepare and network students for the growing universe of interdisciplinarity. I am continually impressed by how many activities now depend on their quantitative component, including health care, environmental studies, energy, agriculture, economics, and other social sciences. Some African leaders have already recognized the need to place science and technology in their development budgets, and I cannot think it will be long before they see how many urgent issues require the participation of mathematicians.

Earlier in this century, no less a figure than the physicist Eugene Wigner wrote about “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences.” Nowadays, Prof. Wigner might not be surprised to note this effectiveness in communications, transportation, finance, and, yes, economic development.

Phillip A. Griffiths
Secretary of IMU


  • ICMI Study 16 The 16th Study of the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction (ICMI) will take place in Trondheim, Norway, from 27 June to 3 July 2006. The conference is devoted to the theme “Challenging Mathematics in and beyond the Classroom“. The International Programme Committee is currently reviewing proposals of contributions, which must be received at the latest by 31 August 2005. The Document can be accessed (in various languages) at
  • ICMI REGIONAL CONFERENCE EARCOME-3 (East Asia Regional Conference on Mathematics Education) will be held in Shanghai, China, on 7-12 August 2005. See
  • ICME-11 INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMME COMMITTEE The 11th International Congress on Mathematical Education will be held in Monterrey, México, on 6-13 July 2008. The process of appointment of the International Programme Committee for ICME-11 is now completed. The Committee is chaired by Marcela Santillán, Rectora of the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional in México.


The International Commission for the History of Mathematics (ICHM) continues to pursue its dual aims of encouraging the study of the history of mathematics and of promoting a high level of historically and mathematically sophisticated scholarship in the field internationally.

The ICHM is presently compiling a database of information on historians of mathematics around the world. Relative to this World Directory effort, the ICHM has published “calls” to the international community of historians of mathematics to alert them to the existence of both the website and the questionnaire. These have appeared in journals Historia Mathematica, the Newsletter of the British Society for the History of Mathematics, the Newsletter of the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Mathematics, and the Newsletter of the Chinese History of Mathematics Society (in Chinese), among others. It is the ICHM's hope that a reasonably complete database of historians of mathematics will be available by the end of 2005.

Historia Mathematica is the official journal of the ICHM. It appears four times annually and publishes roughly 525 pages of original research in the history of mathematics from all times and cultures. From 2003 to the present, it has been edited by Craig Fraser (Canada) and Benno van Dalen (Germany). It is published by Elsevier Science and is available electronically to subscribers of IDEAL.

The Kenneth O. May Medal is awarded every four years to the historian or historians of mathematics whose work best exemplifies the high scholarly and intellectual contributions to the field that May worked so hard to achieve. It was awarded for the fifth time at a special ceremony in Utrecht, The Netherlands on 30 June, 2005 to Henk Bos (The Netherlands) for his ground-breaking work on the history of seventeenth-century mathematics.

Abel Prize

The 2006 Abel Prize Award Ceremony took place in Oslo on Tuesday 23 May 2006. The videos from the Award Ceremony and from the Abel Lectures are now available at the website

IMU on the Web

Best Practice for Retrodigitisation

The World Digital Mathematics Library initiative (see envisions our freely navigating the mathematics research literature with clickable citations readily allowing us to “iterate references“. But there remain obstructions to realizing that dream. First, all but the quite recent literature was not in electronic form. Second, almost all but the very old literature belongs to its copyright owners. However, worldwide noncommercial retrodigitization initiatives making their work freely available (see the draft vision statement at and a brief listing of major projects at have dealt with chunks of the old literature. Moreover, many publishers have chosen to digitize their back journals (less happily, but understandably, they see a need next to recover the costs of such endeavours).

In order to assist and promote the digitisation efforts the CEIC has prepared a draft best practices statement on digitisation; see; comment is invited.

At its Quadrennial Assembly in Shanghai, 2002, the International Mathematical Union adopted the following notion: that publishers be asked to contribute to building the strands of the citation web by agreeing that electronic materials more than five years old be seamlessly accessible without financial impediment. Although this “moving wall” principle has only been sporadically embraced it presents our best hope for building the citation web.

The opinions incidentally expressed above are not necessarily the views of any person let alone of any organisation.

Alf van der Poorten

ICM 2006

Six new satellites meetings have been approved in the last meeting of the Executive Committee of ICM 2006

  • Banach space theory: classical topics and new directions, Cáceres (Spain), 4-8 September 2006
  • CIMPA School on Optimization and Control , Castro Urdiales (Cantabria, Spain) , 28 August-8 September 2006
  • 6th Meeting on Game Theory and Practice, Mediterranean Agro. Ins, Zaragoza (Spain), 10-12 July 2006
  • Groups in Geometry and Topology, GGT Málaga 06, Málaga (Spain), 4-8 September 2006
  • Topics in Mathematical Analysis and Graph theory, Belgrade (Serbia and Montenegro), 1-4 September 2006
  • Harmonic and geometric analysis with applications to pde's, Sevilla (Spain), 14-18 August

IMU logo

The winner of the IMU Logo competition has been chosen. The name of the winner and the winning design will be unveiled at the ICM 2006 Congress in Madrid.

Subscribing to IMU-Net

There are two ways of subscribing to IMU-Net:

  1. Click here with a Web browser and go to the "Subscribe" button to subscribe to IMU-Net online.
  2. Send an e-mail to with the Subject-line: Subject: subscribe


In both cases you will get an e-mail to confirm your subscription so that misuse will be minimized. IMU will not use the list of IMU-Net emails for any purpose other than sending IMU-Net, and will not make it available to others.

Previous issues can be seen here.