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IMU-Net 49: September 2011

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


ICSU is the International Council of Science. Its members are scientific international unions and nations. Together with other partnersincluding the United Nations and UNESCO, it plays a fundamental role in the research areas which require both massive collaboration and sharing of data, such as the global climate studies that supported the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and which received the Nobel Prize in 2007. Such studies cannot take place without long term massive support allowing large scale collaboration of scientists accross disciplines and countries, and archiving of data of previous studies, a support that cannot be provided locally at research institutions. The International Council of Industrial and Applied Mathematics  (ICIAM) is now an associate member of ICSU. Also, John Ball was elected on the Executive Board of ICSU. All together, this will give a strong voice for mathematics on ICSU matters. In particular, as explained in my former editorial in May 2011, ICSU is deeply involved in preparing the United Nations Conference on Sustainability (called Rio+20) to take place in Rio in June 201, with the objective of producing a coordinated message from the scientific community to be forwarded to Rio+20  itself.
On behalf of IMU, Antonio de la Pena attended the ICSU- UNESCO Rio+20 Workshop organized by the Regional Office of ICSU for Latin America and the Caribbean (Mexico City, 3-5 August 2011). The next important events organized by ICSU is the conference "Planet under Pressure: New Knowledge Towards Solutions", London, March 2012 and the ICSU Science Forum May 25-30 2012 in Rio just prior to Rio+20, this forum being organized jointly with the International Social Science Council (ISSC) and UNESCO. The General Assembly of ICSU ended with the address of the new president, Yuan Tseh Lee, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist from China: Taipei. His message was very strong: "It is not time to celebrate! If we are to avoid catastrophe and ensure humanity's continuation on this planet, the keywords for the next decades will be transformation. That is, we must begin to transform our global society into a truly sustainable civilization". He is keen to see ICSU more proactive in finding the means to further new initiatives in the face of today's challenges, and determined that the world of science should work together and do so quickly: "Our primary theme for the coming years must be Action -and solutions- now".

Christiane Rousseau
Vice President of IMU

John Ball elected on the Executive Board of ICSU

The General Assembly elected the officers for the next three year period and John Ball, former president of IMU, was elected on the Executive Board of ICSU for a three year period starting January 2012.

News from IMU

1. 60th anniversary of IMU after rebirth in 1951. On 10 September 10 2011, the Internationa Mathematical Union has celebrated its 60th anniversary after it was reborn in 1951. In his book "Mathematics without borders, a history of the International Mathematical Union", Olli Lehto recalls that Börge Jessen (1907-1993), the Danish Secretary of the Interim Committee of the IMU 1950-1952, has declared on 10 September 1951 the official founding of the Union with its first domicile in Copenhagen.

2. Associate Members.
The IMU Executive Committee approved the applications of IMU's first two Associate Members, Ecuador and Kyrgyzstan, for renewal of their associate memberships for the period October 2011 to September 2015. IMU is looking forward to Ecuador's and Kyrgyzstan's application for full IMU membership in 2015.

3. Social Network Facebook
IMU is now alive and active on Facebook under the name "IMU Secretariat (Mathunion)" as well as under "International Mathematical Union". If you want to know the latest updates of IMU (and have a Facebook page or profile):
- become friends of the IMU Facebook account; you just have to search for:  
- click the button LIKE at the institutional webpage:
Please distribute this information to everyone interested in your own networks.

4. CDC launches the IMU Mathematics Library Assistance Scheme for Developing Countries.
IMU's Commission for Developing Countries, has launched a new support scheme where the shipment of textbooks to universities in less economically developed countries is supported. CDC offers limited financial support for shipment costs for individual scientists or institutions wishing to donate books in the mathematical sciences to libraries in developing countries.
Libraries in universities/research institutions in developing countries can apply for receiving donated books.
For more information.
or contact the CDC Administrator in the IMU Secretariat in Berlin:

5. The Simons Foundation announces the Africa Mathematics Project.
The program is designed to enhance the mathematical capacity and productivity of recipient research groups. The project will focus on mathematicians and their graduate students at institutions of higher learning in sub-Saharan Africa. The Foundation will make competitive awards that, taken together, will total approximately 400,000 USD per year for each of the next10 years. More information: 

IMU on the Web

1. A new member for CEIC (Committee on Electronic Information and
I'm pleased to be part of the CEIC. My main reason for agreeing was a willingness to support the IMU when called upon --- the future of mathematics relies in an essential way in the ongoing nurturing of the mathematical community. I'm not sure how I can best contribute, but perhaps some familiarity with the novel experiments in how technology is used may help the IMU create structures valuable for the future of the community. Also, having had some informal conversations with other young mathematicians about the fact that we were well aware what the AMS does but had little idea what the IMU did beyond sponsoring the International Congress, I might possibly help the IMU to do a better job of communicating its mission to the wider mathematical community. As a fringe benefit for myself, I've greatly enjoyed meeting and working with the other committee members, who come from very different communities (and I don't mean geographically), with interesting points of view.
Ravi Vakil, Stanford University
and Member, CEIC

2. JSTOR Announces New Program to Release "Early Journal Content" to All
JSTOR, one of the units of ITHAKA. JSTOR has decided to make open access to approximately 6% of their entire database of journal backfiles. This will include content published prior to 1923 in the United States, and prior to 1870 for material published outside the United States and, in particular, titles of interest to mathematicians from the Royal Society of London, American Mathematical Society, Mathematical Association of America, and others. Please refer to this statement for further specifics of this initiative,

3. Electronic Books and Mathematics: Trials and Pilots.
There is a lot of talk about electronic books, and electronic book readers, tablets, etc. Princeton University ran a significant Kindle DX-based pilot (see, and Indiana University recently ran a major trial (see with goal to reduce students' costs. But how well does this suit mathematics, in  particular, mathematics students? Perhaps over-simplisticly, electronic books come in three formats:
HTML ; PDF (an electronic copy of the paper book, complete with page numbers); or ePub format. ePub is the format designed for these readers, and like HTML 5, ePub 3 has (Presentation-only) MathML and SVG as optional extensions. Firefox supports MathML, but Internet Explorer 9/10 doesn't. But it is worth noting the perceived importance of page numbers (see Princeton's report, p. 11). The Princeton trial did not explicitly involve mathematics, but I was able to ask some questions of Dr. Allan Edmonds, a mathematician in
the Indiana project.

Q1) What subject area and books did you use?
A1) The course was introductory numerical methods, a low level course with only basic calculus as a prerequisite, and not a prerequisite for higher level courses. Because of this, I have a great amount of freedom over course content. The book was NUMERICAL ANALYSIS by T. Sauer, from Pearson-Addison Wesley.

Q2) Were the books PDF or an e-reader format (or what)?
A2) The textbook was PDF, exact replicas of the printed textbook flowing of content between pages, no bad breaks between pages, etc.

Q3) Roughly, what sort of devices did the students use: laptops/desktops or specialist readers such as Kindle?
A3) Students had to access the book through our university's course management frontend. They could download heavily watermarked pages to their own computers, although most did not do that. Best was to print the particular chapters needed (as usual, less than half the book). Occasionally, students complained that access was slow and cumbersome. In principle they could access it from any computer connected to the internet. I know some used laptops, others used desktop machines, and some used an iPad. I don't think anyone used a Kindle. Kindle's handling of PDF is not good enough: One would have to scroll left and right as well as up and down to see a page, or have it displayed in an impossibly small font size. In addition, students couldn't download a pure PDF file that could be converted to Kindle's format or installed on the Kindle--at least as far as I know. I did not take advantage of the "social media" aspects that the company pushing e-books is so pleased about: I did no instructor annotations of the textbook. Students did not share their notes on the textbook.

Q4) Any major issues/challenges?
A4) The book was somewhat more expensive than originally projected. I don't think the publisher of that book has signed on to the upcoming university-wide contract for the future. For a few years I had gotten by without a textbook, just providing free notes (ordinary PDF), on the order of 100 pages of LaTex. I will go back to that. And I may revert to my previous plan of requiring a small and inexpensive MATLAB introductory book instead.

And his bottom line: As an alternative to high priced textbooks, the e-book option has potential. I plan, however, to return to distributing informal, free, course notes, instead of a textbook. If I did not have the course notes available I would consider using the e-book again.

James Davenport
University of Bath
and Member, CEIC

Mathematics of Planet Earth

Competition for an Open Source Exhibition of Virtual Modules under the theme of Mathematics of Planet Earth. The competition will be open from January 2012 to May 15 2012.

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Death of Albrecht Dold

Albrecht Dold, known for fundamental contributions to algebraic topology, was born in Germany in 1928. He held positions in Heidelberg, Zürich, Princeton and Columbia. He has been Vice-president of IMU in 1995-98.

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Previous issues can be seen here.