Simanaitis Says

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EARLIER THIS year, the French had strikingly different candidates in their national elections and voters exhibited rare wisdom. The brand-new centrist Emmanuel Macron and his Le République en Marche! party defeated Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National. Macron’s victory was an impressive one: his 66 percent to her 34 percent.

Another newcomer also did well: 69 percent of Cédric Villani’s district voters placed him in the French National Assembly representing the Essonne 5th constituency, just southwest of Paris. Villani is of Macron’s En Marche! party, but perhaps even more significant, he’s a mathematician.

Cédric Patrice Thierry Villani, born 1973, French mathematician, parliamentarian and author. Image by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

And not just any mathematician. After Villani’s doctorate in 1998, he held visiting positions at places renowned for mathematics: Georgia Tech (1999); the University of California, Berkeley (2004); and Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study (2009). Since 2009, Villani has been director of Pierre and Marie Curie University’s Institut Henri Poincaré.

Villani’s specialities are partial differential equations, Riemannian geometry, transportation theory, and mathematical physics. He was one of four recipients of the 2010 Fields Medal, regarded as a mathematics version of the Nobel Prize.

The Fields Medal, honoring mathematicians under age 40, is named for Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields, 1863–1932. He was instrumental in establishing the award, first given in 1936. Resuming in 1950, the Fields Medal is awarded every four years to as many as four young mathematicians. One of the 2014 winners, Artur Avila, works in the area of my own mathematical studies, dynamical systems theory.

In 2014, the American Mathematical Society awarded Villani a prize for his 2009 book Topics in Optimal Transportation (Graduate Studies in Mathematics, Vol. 58). He is co-discoverer of the Otto-Villani theorem, concerning transportation costs in a Riemannian geometric setting. What’s more, Villani wrote a book about this discovery: Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure, 2015.

Villani also delivered a wonderful TED Talk, “What’s So Sexy About Math?,” at its 2016 conference in Vancouver.

Science, published weekly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has an interview with Villani in its June 23, 2017, issue. Elisabeth Pain asked him why he chose to run, and why with Macron?

Emmanuel Macron, left, is, according to Villani, “a president who believes science is part of global politics.” Villani is wearing his usual silk ascot and spider brooch. Image from Science, June 23, 2017.

“I never recognized myself in any national political movement,” Villani said. “But Macron’s party is enthusiastically pro-European, which has become rare among national parties in France. It also went very much against the old political tradition of systematically attacking opponents during the presidential election; instead, it promoted benevolence, pragmatism, and progress. And the party welcomed non-politicians with professional expertise.”

How very novel. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017.

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