Math Fellowship for Developing Countries Launched by Laureates, International Mathematical Union

In June of this year, five inaugural laureates of the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics were announced. Since then they have been thinking of how to use some of the funds to help the field of mathematics.

“The five of us felt we would have more impact if we acted in unison,” said Richard Taylor, who joined Simon Donaldson, Maxim Kontsevich, Jacob Lurie and Terence Tao as the first winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. “There were many very exciting mathematical projects that we considered supporting, and we had quite extended discussions.”

Ultimately they were swayed by Ingrid Daubechies, the president of the International Mathematical Union (IMU), who had written to them emphasizing the importance of supporting graduate students studying in the developing world.

“In the end, this was an area we were all enthusiastic about,” said Taylor, a professor at the Institute for Advance Study.

The five each gave $100,000 to fund the “Breakout Graduate Fellowships” at the IMU, which were announced by the IMU on August 12 in Seoul, Korea, at their Commission for Developing Countries symposium titled, “Mathematics in Emerging Nations: Achievements and Opportunities.”

“The IMU is profoundly moved by this generous offer,” said Daubechies, a professor of mathematics at Duke University. “This endowed funding will provide a basis on which we will build a fellowship and mentorship program enabling the graduate education of small cohorts of talented young mathematicians for many of the least developed countries.”

Taylor said he hoped this initiative results in extended benefits to the home countries of those chosen for the fellowships.

“Traditionally, support for mathematics in the developing world has consisted mainly of scholarships for highly talented students to study in Europe or North America,” Taylor said. “Such students rarely return to their home countries, so the impact of the scholarship ends with one student. The hope of the IMU and our fellowship is that if these students study in centers of excellence in the developing world, then they are more likely to return to their home countries and help educate the next generation of mathematicians. We felt that here, relatively little money had the potential to have a big impact.”

Donaldson is a professor at Stony Brook University and Imperial College London, while Kontsevich is at the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques and the University of Miami. Jacob Lurie is a Harvard University professor and Terence Tao is a professor at UCLA.