Stanford garners Fields Prize


Paul J. Cohen won the Fields Prize in 1966 for work he did on the continuum hypothesis in 1963 while living in Palo Alto, on Princeton Street in College Terrace (actually quite close to where Zuckerberg founded Facebook years later). Cohen’s three sons, Steve, Eric and Charles attended Gunn High and were stalwarts in academics, student government, sports, The Gunn Oracle and drama, as a set, individually and collectively, sometimes twinned.

Let’s hope the Mirzakhani family can continue to stay in Palo Alto and contribute to community life, and not be displaced by gentrification or forced to “sell-out”.


I’m looking forward to either a graphic novel version of her work or a Hollywood pic with, if not Russell Crowe, Matt Damon or Robin Williams than at least Rachel Weisz or Hilary Swank. Anybody? (speaking of topology….)

Or, as Bjorn (!) Carey of the University News Service says:

Maryam Mirzakhani, a professor of mathematics at Stanford, has been awarded the 2014 Fields Medal, the most prestigious honor in mathematics. Mirzakhani is the first woman to win the prize, widely regarded as the “Nobel Prize of mathematics,” since it was established in 1936.

Courtesy of Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani portrait

Maryam Mirzakhani was awarded the Fields Medal for her sophisticated and highly original contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems.

“This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani said. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”

Officially known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, the Fields Medal will be presented by the International Mathematical Union on Aug. 13 at the International Congress of Mathematicians, held this year in Seoul, South Korea. Mirzakhani is the first Stanford recipient to win this honor since Paul Cohen in 1966.

The award recognizes Mirzakhani’s sophisticated and highly original contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, particularly in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, such as spheres, the surfaces of doughnuts and of hyperbolic objects. Although her work is considered “pure mathematics” and is mostly theoretical, it has implications for physics and quantum field theory.

And the reason I bang that Bjorn of course is that in 1962 or so, Paul Cohen, the Jewish math whiz from Brooklyn was in Sweden on some type of junket and was on a Gilligan-esque “three hour tour” and met a local farm girl named Christina Karls and the rest is his-story, or their story: Steve, Eric, Charles and their parents. Steve and Eric, twins — and apologies to Dr. Mirzakhani for the topology of this post — I used to describe, noting the stereotypes of jews versus swedes as “Bjorn Borg meets Woody Allen”types. I still ring Steve or Eric out of the blue, at all hours, and throw “life-line” questions at them about math. I did call Steven the minute I saw Maryam’s news in the paper, and he said that Christina had already heard and told him. Someone else posted that Paul’s effort was “epic” and referenced Cantor, whereas Maryam, the implication is, is an ordinary or typical Fields laureate. Terry on her phone or computer has a picture of Paul’s actual prize, from when we helped Christina clear out the family’s long-time home on San Juan hill. Steven and Eric meanwhile are still sitting on a lot of footage they shot of PJC directly before he presented with the conditions that eventually did him in — plus some footage of the Godel 100. Maybe the film could be “Stanford Fields” and be about Paul and Maryam — like I was seeing, just shoot her. (inside joke about another fac brat bud of ours).

edit to add: this also, in my view, churns the topic of: should palo alto historical add a place or marker to the site on Princeton Street where Paul and Christina lived (before moving into that big house on campus) when he wrote the disproving forcing paper? In some ways, it is comparable to the garage.


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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