UC Berkeley math faculty to attend virtual International Congress of Mathematicians

Photo of speaker at International Congress of Mathematicians 2018
Christhian Rodrigues/Creative Commons
The International Congress of Mathematicians, which is held every four years, is virtual this year instead of being in St. Petersburg as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Wednesday. While the online nature of the event will have challenges such as different time zones, the decision to hold it virtually garnered support from campus faculty and mathematical organization representatives alike.

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UC Berkeley faculty will attend the International Congress of Mathematicians, or ICM, which is being held virtually this year instead of in St. Petersburg due to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

While the International Mathematical Union’s, or IMU’s, decision to hold ICM online may change some of the logistics of the speeches and discussions, campus faculty such as mathematics professor Nicolai Reshetikhin agree with the move.

“I completely understand the decision to move ICM online and I support it,” Reshetikhin said in an email. “It is very sad. But what is even more sad, is the disgusting war in Ukraine, meaningless and unjustifiable.”

The ICM, held since 1897, meets every four years to support and encourage international cooperation among mathematicians worldwide, according to its website. It is also where the Fields Medal is awarded.

A similar problem occurred for the IMU before when the 1982 Warsaw ICM was postponed for a year due to a takeover of the Polish government, according to Kenneth Alan Ribet, distinguished campus professor of mathematics.

Though the situation in Russia has deterred the IMU’s planning, attendees such as Reshetikhin hope that their efforts will not be taken for granted.

“I will participate in this ICM and I hope the efforts of organizers will remain in the history of ICM’s disconnected from this war.” Reshetikhin said in the email. “They have done an admirable job, they put their time, effort, etc. into this, and unfortunately it was all ruined by the government that started the war.”

The online format comes with certain downsides such as time difference conflicts, according to Ribet; however, it will have its own upsides as well.

“It’s easy to imagine that the talks will be streamable on demand not long after they’re given,” Ribet said in an email. “A big advantage is that the talks will be open to all, whereas the in-person attendance at the 2022 ICM would most probably have been below 5000.”

Prior to the announcement that the event would be held online, representatives from other mathematical organizations such as both the European and American mathematical societies expressed concerns about the event being held in St. Petersburg.

According to Michael Hutchings, mathematics professor and department chair, other invited speakers signed their own open letter asking for the postponement or otherwise reorganization of the event due to Russia’s actions.

Some, including campus professor of mathematics Edward Frenkel, argue that the decision to go online was not made soon enough.

“I am appalled that it has taken the Executive Committee of the International Mathematical Union so long to cancel in-person Congress in Russia this summer,” Frenkel said in an email. “This decision must have been made immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine started.”

Molly Cochran is a higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @mollyacochran .