UNE mathematicians welcome world leader in their field

Published 29 July 2009

gangtianOne of the world’s leading mathematicians, Professor Gang Tian, visited the University of New England earlier this month and spoke to mathematics staff and students about his cutting-edge research on the measurement of curved space.

Professor Tian (pictured here) is based both in the United States at Princeton University, and in China, where he heads the Beijing International Centre for Mathematical Research. He is perhaps most famous for his contribution – together with John Morgan of Columbia University – of a detailed proof (published in 2006) of the “Poincaré conjecture” that helped to verify Grigori Perelman’s successful but unelaborated solution of that century-old problem.

Professor Tian’s work on the measurement of space is extending the mathematical techniques of “curvature flow”, one of which – the “Ricci flow” – was used by Perelman in his proof. “In incorporating a time dimension, such techniques of measuring space are analogous to the measurement of the evolution of heat distribution from a radiating source,” Professor Tian explained.

His visit to UNE followed the Congress of the Pacific Rim Mathematical Association, held at the University of NSW in Sydney in the second week of July, at which he was a plenary speaker. UNE’s Professor Yihong Du was also a speaker at the Congress, and it was Professor Du who was Professor Tian’s host at UNE.

“Professor Tian’s work covers, at the very highest level, all three of our research fields here at UNE: differential equations, complex geometry, and algebraic topology,” Professor Du said. “We’ve known his work for a long time, and it’s wonderful to have had him with us. It helps our researchers and postgraduate students to feel that they’re not so far away from the cutting edge.”

“Coincidentally,” Professor Du said, “one of the unsolved ‘Millennium Prize Problems’ (which included the Poincaré conjecture before its solution) concerns the so-called ‘Navier-Stokes equations’ in fluid dynamics, a field of mathematical inquiry pioneered in the nineteenth century by the famous Cambridge-based mathematician and physicist Sir George Stokes – an ancestor of UNE’s Emeritus Professor Robin Stokes.” (Robin Stokes is a world-renowned scientist who was UNE’s first Professor of Chemistry.)

Professor Du said that there could be opportunities for future collaboration with Professor Tian – particularly in his capacity as Director of the Beijing International Centre.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Professor Gang Tian displayed here expands to include UNE’s Professor Yihong Du.