[CvGmt News] IMU-Net 34: March 2009

The Electronic IMU Newsletter imu-net at mathunion.org
Sun Mar 29 19:45:13 CEST 2009

IMU-Net 34: March 2009

A Bimonthly Email Newsletter from the International Mathematical Union
Editor: Mireille Chaleyat-Maurel, University Paris Descartes, Paris, France


1. Editorial
2. News from IMU
3. Abel Prize 2009
4. 2011 ICPAM-CIMPA research schools
5. IMU on the Web: Mathematical Notation on the Web
6. Subscribing to IMU-Net



Next week I will attend a workshop on the mathematics of weather and
climate prediction. It is a subject that I know very little about, but
which intrigues me as one in which mathematics can perhaps contribute
critically to a problem facing all humans. For example, the question
of which features of the climate are predictable seems to me to have a
deep mathematical component.  In the present global financial crisis
we see both the potential of mathematical modelling to help
restabilize the world economy, and the possibility that complex
financial instruments created by mathematicians may have been one
element in precipitating the crisis itself.

Thus mathematics has the capacity to change the world. But it is not
more responsible or moral to work on mathematical models of the heart
than on, say, the Langlands programme. Leaving aside aesthetic
reasons, to argue thus would deny the value for future applications of
mathematics of the subject developing naturally according to its
intrinsic structure. Yet the choice of what problems to work on is one
of the most important that faces researchers, and the contribution
that mathematics can make to society is a legitimate consideration in
this choice.

John Ball



1. Visa problems
At the General Assembly 2006 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain,
the International Mathematical Union (IMU) adopted the following
"The General Assembly of the IMU continues to endorse the principle
of universality expressed in the International Council for Science
(ICSU) ARTICLE 5 of the STATUTES, as adopted by the 1998 General
Assembly, and endorses the additional ICSU Statement on the
Universality of Science (2004) (see
Notwithstanding heightened tensions, security concerns, etc., the
General Assembly urges free exchange of scientific ideas and free
circulation of scientists and mathematicians across international
borders. The IMU opposes efforts by governments to restrict contacts,
interactions, access and travel in the world mathematical community,
particularly when such restrictions penalize individual mathematicians
for the actions of governments."
see Resolution 10 at

ICSU has received a number of reports that some governments
make it difficult, e.g., due to security clearance issues, for
scientists to obtain visas in time to allow them to attend meetings.
The attached letter from ICSU's Deputy Executive Director Carthage
Smith is meant to alert scientists about this situation.

IMU asks all its adhering organization and all mathematical
societies to inform its members of this issue and contact
their governments in order improve this frustrating situation.

2. EC meeting in Fuzhou, China
IMU's Executive Committee will meet in Fuzhou, China, on April 17-19.


3. ABEL PRIZE 2009

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has decided to award the
Abel Prize for 2009 to

Mikhail Leonidovich Gromov
Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques, Bures-sur-Yvette, France

for his revolutionary contributions to geometry.

The President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Øyvind
Østerud, announced the winner of Abel Prize at the Academy in Oslo on
March 26. Mikhail L. Gromov will receive the Abel Prize from His
Majesty King Harald at an award ceremony in Oslo, May 19. The Abel
Prize recognizes contributions of extraordinary depth and influence to
the mathematical sciences and has been awarded annually since 2003. It
carries a cash award of NOK 6,000,000 (close to EUR 700,000, USD 950,000).

For more information about the laureate, his achievements and the Abel
Prize, visit the Abel Prize website:



Research schools call for projects begins on March 1st, 2009. The
deadline for a pre-proposal is June 15, 2009. The complete proposal is
due October 1st, 2009.

For more information:


5. IMU ON THE WEB: Mathematical Notation on the Web

The Mathematics Markup Language (MathML) activity of the World-Wide Web
Consortim (W3C) grew out of the HTML-Math effort of 1994. Early work on MathML
paralleled the  development of the eXtensible Markup Language (XML), and the
two influenced each other. MathML was in fact the first XML application: a
fact not surprising to those who practice the "Queen of the Sciences".
Mathematics uses a complex and highly evolved system of two-dimensional
symbolic notations. Indeed in traditional typesetting mathematics was known as
"penalty copy" because of the difficulty of the two-dimensional arrangements
and the large range of characters.

These challenges have translated into electronic world of browsers, both for
the two-dimensionality and the range of characters. Browsers have started to
develop, either directly or via various "plug-ins", the ability to handle the
two-dimensionality. The question of names for the large range of
mathematical symbols needed has been largely solved as a part of the
process which extended the Unicode standard to include symbols for other world
languages. The remaining challenge is the availability of what are known
as "glyphs", i.e. what the characters look like. Here it is must be
admitted that the situation is less satisfactory. Even if one has access to
the glyphs (and this is not always the case), it is rare that they match
the font of the ordinary characters in the surrounding text. This tends,
at the moment to lead to ugly but readable text on the web, as can be found
in the abstracts of many journals, as viewed by some browsers under some
configurations of fonts. It is the caveats in the last sentence that
indicate the problem: the publisher can have no idea what set of glyphs
will be chosen by the browser. However, the fact that we are discussing
"ugly" rather than "unusable" illustrates the progress that has been made,
and there is more work being done (under the auspices of STIX -
http://www.aip.org/stixfonts/) to solve these problems.

As pointed out in an early draft of MathML
      "The challenge in putting math on the Web is to capture both notation and
      content in such a way that documents can utilize the highly-evolved
      notational practices of print, and the potential for interconnectivityin
      electronic media. "

This challenge means that MathML essentially developed two languages: one for
notation (Presentation MathML or MathML-P) and one for content (Content
MathML or MathML-C). It is worth noting that neither is intended for direct
human consumption: MathML-P will be written by editors and other software
tools, and rendered by browsers or printing engines, and MathML-C is
intended for direct production and consumption by software tools with a
deep capability to manipulate the mathematical meaning thus encoded. Hence
clarity and machine readability (parsing) take priority over conciseness.
MathML compresses very well!

With that caveat, MathML-P will seem familiar in concept to LaTeX users.
Perhaps the biggest difference is that a horizontal row is explicit in
MathML-P, So LaTeX's a+b becomes a row of (the MathML encodings of) a, plus
and b. The reader is referred to http://www.w3.org/TR/MathML/chapter2.html for
more detail and examples. MathML-P differs from LaTeX, though, in having
several operators that would render as white space on a printed page, such as
⁢ or ⁡, thus enabling a MathML-to-speech
renderer (they do exist, and seem to be remarkably effective) to distinguish
"f of x" from "f times x", even though both would print as "f x" (but with
differing spacing, again implied by the 'invisible' symbols).

We will come back to MathML-C in a later article.

Olga Caprotti, James Davenport
Members of the IMU Committee on Electronic Information and Communication



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