Chalkdust is very sad to hear that the 1958 Fields medallist Klaus Friedrich Roth, who was featured in our first issue, passed away on the night of the 9th/10th November in Inverness, Scotland. Born in what was then Prussia in 1925, he spent most of his life in the United Kingdom, graduating with a BA from Peterhouse College, Cambridge, in 1945 and obtaining an MSc (1948) and PhD (1950) from University College London. In 1958, whilst at UCL (1946–66), he was awarded the Fields medal for solving “in 1955 the famous Thue-Siegel problem concerning the approximation to algebraic numbers by rational numbers and [proving] in 1952 that a sequence with no three numbers in arithmetic progression has zero density (a conjecture of Erdös and Turán of 1935)”. In 1966, he was awarded a chair at Imperial College London, where he remained for the rest of his career, retiring in 1988 (although he remained there as a visiting professor until 1996).
You can read more about Klaus Roth and his work on the Thue-Siegel problem here.
Hannah Fry is a lecturer at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at UCL. In addition to her research on the mathematics of social systems, Hannah also does a lot of public engagement – showing the general public some of the fascinating ways that Maths can be used in the real world. She’s given TED talks, spoken on TV and radio, made YouTube videos, and performed in science stand-up and stage shows. Most recently, she has written a book called The Mathematics of Love, and presented the BBC documentary Climate Change by Numbers.
Maths and the Real World
Would you like to tell our readers a bit about your mathematical background?
I did my undergraduate degree in Maths here at UCL and I much preferred the applied side. I then did my PhD in fluid dynamics with Prof. Frank Smith, doing lots of lovely asymptotic analysis. My postdoc was a bit different. I think fluids is a really great place to train, but it’s hard to find a really good postdoc in fluids, and you can’t pick the subject that you want to work on. So this postdoc came up using mathematics to look at social systems – things like trade, migration and security. And I just thought it was an interesting topic and came over here to CASA, and I’ve been here ever since!
Be proud if you are studying Mathematics at UCL! Looking back, we have numerous famous alumni who later gained significant achievements in their field. One of them is Klaus Roth, who was once a research student at UCL, and later was a lecturer and professor at the university, during which time he won the Fields Medal.
If you haven’t heard of the Fields Medal, it is seen as the equivalent of the ‘Nobel Prize’ in Mathematics (although unfortunately it has a much lower monetary reward) and is awarded every four years by the International Mathematical Union. The award is given to a maximum of four mathematicians each time, all of whom must be under the age of 40 and have made a great contribution to the development of Mathematics. Roth won the Medal in 1958, when he was 33 years old and still a lecturer at UCL (show more respect to your lecturers … you never know!), for having “solved in 1955 the famous Thue-Siegel problem concerning the approximation to algebraic numbers by rational numbers and proved in 1952 that a sequence with no three numbers in arithmetic progression has zero density (a conjecture of Erdös and Turàn of 1935).”