Skip to main content

IMU-Net 31: September 2008

A Bimonthly Email Newsletter from the International Mathematical Union
Editor: Mireille Chaleyat-Maurel, University Paris Descartes, Paris, France


A year ago two lecturers were sought to participate in the beautiful project of the French organization CIMPA (Centre International de Mathématiques Pures et Appliquées) to help rebuild the mathematics infrastructure in Cambodia. The context of this work was described to potential volunteers as follows:

"We seek lecturers for intensive 3-4 week courses at universities in the developing world, at the advanced undergraduate level. The lecturer would be assisted by a local mathematics professor who prepares the students beforehand, assists when necessary during the course, and takes care of any necessary follow-up. These courses should have a student audience of 20 or more, be controlled, with examinations, and be part of a regular degree program at the university at which they are offered.

Past experience in the developing world is desirable but not necessary. However what is required is tolerance for working in circumstances of modest resources, unexplained inefficiencies, and limited physical comforts.

Funds for all expenses, including travel, will be provided; however, we request that the mathematician's home institution offer leave with pay during his/her 3-4 week absence. We believe that a strong case can be made that cooperation with this program will not only bring personal and professional benefit to the lecturer, but will also redound to the credit of the lecturer's institution."

40 volunteers immediately responded! Such an outpouring of interest in contributing to the formation of students of mathematics in the developing world could not be ignored! The Developing Countries Strategy Group of the International Mathematical Union, in cooperation with CIMPA and the U.S. National Committee for Mathematics, have built on that nucleus of 40 volunteers to launch the "Volunteer Lecturer Program" (VLP), whose goal is to provide mathematician volunteers to give intensive month-long courses at universities in the developing world. The program is quite modest in size due to the limited financial resources of the sponsoring organizations. But mathematicians interested in participating in the VLP, universities in the developing world interested in hosting lecturers to teach in the context described above, and, as importantly, donors desiring to provide the E.3000 necessary to support a VLP lecturer, should contact:
Sharon Berry Laurenti
Administrative Secretary
Developing Countries Strategy Group of the International Mathematical Union

Herbert Clemens
Chair of the DCSG

IMU on the Web: Preserving our History

The use of TeX over the last decade and a half to write papers, lecture notes and even ephemera has moved from the unusual to the commonplace. Indeed, some of my younger colleagues can't remember using anything else but TeX to write mathematics. For those of us somewhat longer in the tooth, we remember using other software, which was preceded by the little golf balls that allowed typing of mathematical symbols, which in turn was preceded by writing in the mathematics by hand (with the hope that the typesetting would introduce only a few errors).

One of the happier results of this migration to TeX has been the ability to put our papers on personal web pages so that anyone with a standard computer configuration can acquire them. This usually means making a pdf or a PostScript file available for download. The little postcards that were mailed to request reprints has now joined those little golf balls as historical curiosities.

Happily, the papers that were written in the predigital era are not beyond redemption. They, too, can and perhaps should be made available for download. In the past several years there have been significant advances in the ability to scan paper documents. With the right equipment, scanning several hundred or even a thousand pages is not difficult.

The are two approaches, both of which work well. The first is to use a standalone scanner. Robust models with document sheet feeders are available for under $1000. These include the software for doing the scanning. There are lots of options when using such software, so here are some suggestions.

When scanning the pages, the software can produce colour, grayscale or black and white files. Unless there is a compelling reason, black and white is usually the best choice for older documents. There is also a choice of resolution: 200, 300, 600 or 1200dpi (dots per inch). Usually the 600dpi is the best choice.

There are also several different types of files that can be produced by the scanning software. All of them have some compression: these come in two types: lossless (no data lost during the compression) and lossy (some data irretrievable). A lossless compression is the best. There are also different file formats, the most common being pdf and TIFF. The pdf files are the ones to put on your web page; they can be read on any modern computer with readily available software. Note that there are two different types of pdf files: ones that are image only and those that are also text searchable. The latter type is preferable, and most scanners can produce them.

There is also a compelling reason to keep lossless TIFF files. Newer and smarter software will emerge that will do things we can't do today. If you keep the TIFF files, there will be no need to rescan since the information is already in an industry-standard format.

A second approach is to use a photocopier. Many of them come with scanning software built in: you feed in the pages and the image files are emailed back to you. Usually there are fewer options than with a scanner. The default resolution is usually 200dpi, so be sure to set it to 600dpi. The provisos given above for scanners are also valid for photocopiers.

I recently carried out a two-month project that involved scanning of some 53000 pages. It really wasn't difficult. In fact the hardest part of preserving your mathematical history may be taking the staples out of those old pages.

Our mathematical history is important and worth preserving. A bit of effort by all of us can produce a significant body of mathematical literature. Let's get our history out of the file cabinet and onto the web!

Michael Doob
Member of CEIC

Emmy Noether lecturer: for ICM 2010 in Hyderabad

Emmy Noether was one of the great mathematicians of her time, someone who worked and struggled for what she loved and believed in. Her life and work remain a tremendous inspiration. The 2010 Emmy Noether Lecture will be presented as a plenary lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians in August 2010 in Hyderabad, to honour women who have made fundamental and sustained contributions to the mathematical sciences.

There have been Emmy Noether Lectures at four previous ICMs, and this will be the second time that the selection of the Emmy Noether Lecturer has been made formally by the IMU. The IMU Executive Committee has established a committee of five, chaired by Cheryl Praeger (Australia), to select the 2010 Emmy Noether Lecturer. The committee will conduct their work over the next 6-9 months, and suggestions for consideration by the committee may be sent to Cheryl Praeger at

Sad news about Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh

Following the report of an independent enquiry on the events that took place in the Republic of Chad between January 28 and February 8, 2008, the French professional societies (SFdS, SMAI, and SMF) have notified the IMU that almost certainly Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh died in detention a few days after having been kidnapped from his home on February 3rd, 2008 by the armed forces of Chad. Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, Professor of Mathematics at the University of N'Djamena was instrumental in the establishment of higher-education exchanges between France and Chad. He was one of the leading figures in the democratic opposition to the government of Chad. For more information and to continue demanding the truth on the fate of Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, please go to:

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.