AustMS2021 plenary profile – Robyn Araujo

This is the seventh in a series of interviews with the plenary speakers for the upcoming 65th Annual Meeting of the AustMS.

  1. What is your earliest mathematical memory?

I don’t have any very early mathematical memories, although my Mum has always proudly claimed that she heard me speak my first words as a toddler when I started to count out the clothes pegs in her laundry!!  (Apparently I was an avid watcher of Sesame Street as a young child, and my parents are convinced that I learned to count, and read simple words, from watching that).   But I do remember starting to take a serious interest in mathematics in early High School, as I had a truly fantastic maths teacher who gave wonderful explanations of mathematical concepts, so I started to appreciate the exciting possibilities of mathematics.

  1. What made you decide to become a mathematician, and when?

I never made a conscious decision to pursue mathematics, as such.  As an undergraduate, I initially got started in Engineering, but was a little disappointed with the amount (and level) of mathematics taught in my degree.  Bit by bit, I transitioned over into a more mathematical direction and then did a PhD in applied mathematics at QUT.

  1. Name a favourite paper by a contemporary mathematician, and why (or more than one, if you can’t decide).

It’s hard to pick just one paper, but I’d love to highlight the extraordinary work of the German mathematician Karin Gatermann here [See eg ACM DL, ResearchGate -Ed].   Unfortunately, Karin passed away in 2005 while only in her early forties;  but Karin was an extraordinary mathematical pioneer in symbolic computation and toric geometry, and was one of the first mathematicians to identify deep connections between mass-action kinetics and toric varieties. 

  1. What historical mathematician would you like to be able to talk maths with? What would you ask them?

If I had to pick just one historical mathematician, I’d probably pick Galois … I’d love to ask him where his ideas and insights came from, and how his mathematical thinking evolved.

  1. What result would you like to see in mathematics in the next 10 years?

I’d love to see a big breakthrough in the mathematics of the ‘Laws of Life’.  In many ways, the current state of biology and the life sciences is reminiscent of the state of physics 400-500 years ago.  Historically, biologists have shied away from ‘grand theories’ of nature, and have tended to focus more on details and reductionist approaches.  But things are changing, and there is now renewed hope that we may find the ‘laws of life’ in a similar spirit to the fundamental laws of nature in other areas of physics.