- What is your earliest mathematical memory?
My family moved from Israel to Uganda when I was 8 years old, and I started school there without knowing any English. Nakasero Primary School was at the time an old fashioned colonial British school, which offered very little help for pupils who did not know English. I was put in a class and expected to catch up on my own.
I well remember that the one subject that I was able to follow for the first few weeks was Maths: multiplication table and such matters. At that point I was grateful that math was a universal language!
- What made you decide to become a mathematician, and when?
In my final year at high school I was seriously thinking about taking up physics. I tried to read some of the university physics texts but decided that I needed to better understand the math, and while doing it fell in love with the subject. I participated in a couple of local math contests and received a small fellowship as a result of winning third place in one of them, and I saw that as a sign that I had a future in the subject.
- Name a favourite paper by a contemporary mathematician, and why (or more than one, if you can’t decide).
Some of Michael Berry’s papers and surveys are particular favourites of mine, as they have shaped my views of Quantum Chaos and its relation to Number Theory. In particular I can mention the survey:
- Berry, M V, 1983, ‘Semiclassical Mechanics of regular and irregular motion’ in Les Houches Lecture Series Session XXXVI, eds. G Iooss, R H G Helleman and R Stora, North Holland, Amsterdam, 171-271. (author pdf)
Michael Berry is a physicist, but much of his work is mathematical and I have drawn inspiration from his way of looking at nature.
- What historical mathematician would you like to be able to talk maths with? What would you ask them?
I suspect that many of the great mathematicians are not great conversationalists.
- What result would you like to see in mathematics in the next 10 years?
I would like to see a proof of the Riemann Hypothesis. But it may well take much more than 10 years.