A Winning Equation
Through various International Joint Units (UMI), CNRS is consolidating its international position in the field of mathematics–facilitating researcher mobility and creating a vast network of growing partnerships.
Garnering almost a quarter of all Fields medals, and second only in reputation to the United States, French math labs have long been a destination of choice for foreign researchers. Young French mathematicians are often less inclined to do post-doctoral work abroad than their foreign counterparts. To incite them to expand their research horizons, and kindle new international partnerships, CNRS has reached out to countries around the world in the last decade, building up a network of thriving international math centers.
So far, five international joint research units (UMI)1
exist in five different countries–Russia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, and this year Canada–all contributing to the geographical mobility of math researchers and the intellectual mobility of their ideas. These UMIs form the top tier of a pyramid of CNRS programs available for researchers to broaden their international cooperations. These programs range from individual research trips to the association of two labs, one in each country, working on a common project (LIA)2
, and international research networks exploring a common theme (GDRI)3
. Going one step further, UMIs allow French researchers to spend one year in a foreign lab and gain an international perspective on their work. They also offer human resources to their host country, as well as a space for launching new international projects.
The Center for Mathematical Modeling (CMM)4
was the very first math UMI. It was created in 2000 in Santiago (Chile) where the needs of the mining and forestry industries provided the opportunity to explore the mathematical applications of modeling techniques.
Five years later, the Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics (IMPA)5
became the second UMI in Latin America, this time in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro, and consolidated the already long history uniting both countries. Young French math researchers used to go to Brazil to do their mandatory military service, as part of a government science program. They often kept tight links with the Brazilian research community after they returned. But this type of exchange decreased following the end of compulsory military service in France. In 2005, a UMI was created to revive this partnership. Today, it is home to an important research school, especially in the areas of geometry and dynamical systems.
Back in Europe, a third UMI, the “Laboratoire Poncelet”6
was created in Moscow. The brain drain plaguing the country since the fall of the Soviet Union had disorganized the excellent Russian mathematical school. The creation of this UMI in 2002 answered the pressing need to maintain in Russia a strong cooperation on fundamental mathematics and its interaction with computer sciences and theoretical physics.
Two years later, it was joined by a second European UMI, based out of the Wolfgang Pauli Institute7
in Vienna (Austria). This UMI focuses on a wide variety of applied projects such as numerical methods and simulations, turbulence, quantum semiconductor structures, modeling in cell biology, or financial mathematics.
Last but not least, the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS)8
in Vancouver (Canada) is now home to the fifth and most recent UMI, welcoming two CNRS scientists–and for the first time this year, offering a postdoctoral position to a French researcher. A network of six main universities in Western Canada and the US, PIMS covers the whole spectrum of mathematical sciences, from mainstream mathematics to new interdisciplinary applied research as diverse as geophysical fluid dynamics, climate modeling, or mathematical ecology. This partnership is also a chance for CNRS researchers to study up-close the workings of a regional organization, something that might be applied in France in the future.
Although born of the desire to send young French researchers abroad, math UMIs are now research units in their own right, that benefit from the combined contributions of France and the local research culture of their host country. In line with CNRS' international policy, they embody a new kind of research partnership, one fit for the realities of a converging, globalizing world.
Math Research in France
Responsible for 17% of France's mathematics research budget, CNRS works at the crossroads of research and education to ensure that the field benefits from a strong interdisciplinary approach. At the heart of this initiative, the MPPU1 coordinates 47 joint math research units in collaboration with French universities that encourage symbiotic student-researcher relationships across the entire spectrum of fundamental and applied subjects.
1. Département de Mathématiques, Physique, Planète et Univers.
1. Unité mixte internationale.
2. Laboratoire international associé.
3. Groupement de recherche international.