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French Mathematicians Have It Down Cold

Inauguration of a Franco-Russian Mathematics Laboratory in Moscow

In March 2002 the CNRS signed an agreement with the Independent University of Moscow and the Russian Academy of Sciences setting up a French-Russian laboratory focused on mathematics and its interface with computer science and theoretical physics. The objective? Lend support to the brilliant Russian school of mathematics and at the same time encourage fruitful exchange.

The excellence and originality of the school of mathematics which grew up in the Soviet Union are recognized worldwide. Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, however, the future continuity of this brilliant tradition is endangered by chronic lack of funds. Large numbers of Russian mathematicians have been driven by need to seek jobs in the West; the United States in particular has rolled out the red carpet to the best and brightest of them. Things are, however, not that simple, as Christian Peskine, deputy scientific director of Mathematics in the CNRS' Physical and Mathematical Sciences Department (SPM), makes clear. “Russian scientists are profoundly attached to their country and culture, and they look askance at Westerners recruiters on shopping trips.” In addition, a young Russian who goes to work abroad full-time in a few years loses contact with his or her scientific culture while acquiring that of the host country, with the attendant gains and losses of that trade-off.
How best to offer support to the Russian mathematical tradition and its renowned multidisciplinary tendencies while sponsoring useful exchange with it? The CNRS answer has been to send French mathematicians to work in Russia. Such a move brings not only scientific benefit to the participants but also recognition of the Russian school and its permanent contribution. This was the idea behind the agreement signed in March 2002 establishing in Moscow the Franco-Russian International Laboratory for Mathematics and Interactions with Computer Science and Theoretical Physics (LIFR-MI2P), a laboratory characterised by a wide-ranging theoretical focus.

This act followed a twinned laboratory arrangement set up in 2000 between the CNRS and the Independent University of Moscow (IUM, a semi-private institution founded in 1990), which in fact represented a new type of twinning oriented toward two-month post-doctoral sojourns by young Russian mathematicians in French laboratories. The agreement establishing the LIFR-MI2P was signed with the IUM and the Russian Academy of Sciences for a renewable period of four years. The UIM agrees to furnish space and to assign four Russian researchers to the laboratory each year. The CNRS for its part supplies two researchers (one from SPM, and one from the Information and Communication Sciences and Technology Department) while also allocating 7,500 annually to the lab's budget plus 7,500 for each French researcher supplied. The first two French scientists took up duties in the Fall of 2002.

In the near future Christian Peskine would like to see a French trio at the Moscow lab composed of a young mathematician, a young theoretical physicist and a young computer scientist, an ensemble not often seen even in France.




Christian Peskine
Département des sciences physiques et mathématiques, CNRS

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