a dispatch from the fourth annual Heidelberg Laureate Forum
One of the hardest things about research in technical fields: Explaining what the heck it is that you do.
The natural sciences have it easy: they study physical, tangible things. Perhaps those things are weird and exotic (bosons, mRNA, kangaroos, etc.) but hey, at least they’re things.
Mathematicians and computer scientists face a taller order. They study concepts, processes, algorithms. The “things” they research aren’t really things at all: they’re creations of rigorous human thought, abstract structures of logical language.
Not so easy to explain.
So as they sipped on coffee and Coke, waiting for the HLF opening ceremony to begin, I ambushed seven young researchers and goaded them into explaining their work to me. Characterizing your specific research can be simply too hard, so I gave them a slightly broader invitation: On a single piece of paper, illustrate what your research area is about.
Here is what they (very gamely!) contributed:
From Tetiana Klychmuk, studying linear algebra in Ukraine:
Here’s some poetic algebra for you: each vector space is like a flourishing leaf, and linear maps are the rough bark that runs between them. As a researcher, Tetiana wants to understand the whole tree.