# Alessio Figalli: "To do math you don't have to be a freak" | Science

Until recently, only a small group of people knew who Alessio Figalli was (Rome, 1984). His job is to solve problems of calculating variations and equations in partial derivatives. Today this mathematician, calm and close, that the magazine of mathematical dissemination *Quanta* in a Article defined as "tall, elegant and fit" ("tall, fit and stylish”), Enjoys an unusual reputation among his coworkers.

In 2018 it was granted, along with three other mathematicians, the most sought-after award in the mathematical world: the Fields Medal, an acknowledgment that the International Mathematical Union confers only once every 4 years since 1936 (with a break until 1950) to mathematicians under 40 years of age. In total there are only 60 mathematicians who can boast of this recognition, among which only one woman: Iranian Maryam Mirzakhani.

Figalli, Professor at the ETH Polytechnic in Zurich, he has visited Barcelona on the occasion of the ceremony organized by the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), which has given him a doctor *honoris causa* last Thursday. With his usual humility, said that that day was celebrated, more than himself, "the world of mathematics" and its successes in society.

“There are many stereotypes about mathematicians,” he says, “but we are not all the same. The Medal has made me better known, it's true. Failure to follow stereotypes is positive because it helps remove that wrong and harmful image that you can only be a mathematician if you're weird. Many people have the image of mathematicians like Nash from the movie *An amazing mind* or Rāmānujan, who resolved at 5 years old, I don't know what problem. I did a humanistic baccalaureate without any special contact with mathematics before college. It is true that great mathematicians such as Terence Tao (Fields Medal in 2006) or Akshay Venkatesh (also Fields Medal in 2018) started college very young, but I like to think that you can have a normal life and succeed. ”

Mathematics helps us to reason and is an excellent exercise to stimulate creativity and imagination

**Question.** What should the school teach about mathematics?

**P.** Which part of your work do you like the most and which less?

Mathematicians do not need tools or a place to work. That is good and bad at the same time: it is difficult to get an idea out of the head, our work always accompanies us

**P.** How is math research in the world going on right now?

Society is changing and mathematicians are one of the most versatile and most sought after professionals. We are few, we know how to think and reason, we know how to deal with problems creatively and we learn quickly

**P.** Talk about creativity, a term that we do not usually associate with mathematicians.

**P. **What problems would you like to see a solution?

**R.** Obviously, there are very famous problems like the Riemann conjecture, that of Navier-Stokes and many others of the “millennium problems" It fascinates me that they exist, although I have not taken care of them. The point is not the result, but what procedure will have to be invented to solve them. As it happened with the famous Fermat's last theorem: Andrew Wiles developed to prove it a beautiful math, very important for the scientific community. Today, after dealing with years of optimal transport, I am especially interested in free border problems, such as when ice melts in the phase transition. Great mathematicians like Xavier Ros-Oton and Joaquím Serra, in Barcelona, work on my team for years. They are very rich problems, where there are many mathematics, some of which we are still developing.

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