Shing-Tung Yau, a renowned mathematician, has achieved remarkable feats in numerous sectors of mathematics, including differential equations, algebraic geometry, computer graphics, and more. He was awarded the prestigious Fields Medal, often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics,” at the age of 34. Currently, Yau continues to conduct research in mathematics and teaches at multiple higher research institutions in China and the United States. On March 23, he gave an exclusive interview to China Daily at Qiuzhen College, Tsinghua University, where he shared his views on the importance of mathematics and its relevance in modern society.
Yau believes that mathematics is one of the most crucial subjects, and its importance cannot be overstated. According to him, mathematics forms the foundation of modern society, and social development would be impossible without progress in science and technology, all of which must come from, and cannot be separated from, mathematics. In fact, Yau argues that human civilization today would not exist without mathematics, as modern technology heavily relies on it. From connecting individuals through smartphones to allocating resources most efficiently, mathematics is at the core of these essential modern technologies.
Despite the significance of mathematics in modern society, many individuals may underestimate the subject’s relevance. When asked about this, Yau said that mathematics is often overlooked because people may not fully comprehend its critical role in their lives. He emphasized that even sociology cannot exist without mathematics. As a result, it is vital to raise awareness about the importance of mathematics in today’s world.
One pressing issue that Yau addressed in the interview was the development of the chip industry amid US sanctions. He believes that the fundamental principles of the chip industry must be thoroughly understood before progress can be made. According to Yau, one of the primary reasons for difficulties in the field is that basic science is not yet well developed, and a solid grasp of some of the fundamental theories needed to manufacture chips is lacking. Thus, he suggests that efforts should be focused on developing the entire basic science to enhance the efficiency of the entire scientific and technological system.
China’s success at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) was another topic of discussion in the interview. Yau acknowledged that the IMO has played a crucial role in promoting the discipline of mathematics worldwide, and China’s success at the event has significantly contributed to its popularity in the country. According to Yau, the competition has helped to nurture young talent and promote mathematical research, and the success of Chinese students in the IMO has inspired many other students to take an interest in mathematics.
Despite the benefits of the IMO, Yau also expressed concerns about the overemphasis on exams in education. He believes that too much emphasis on exams may not lead to effective learning, as it may lead to rote memorization rather than a deep understanding of the subject. Instead, Yau suggests that students should be encouraged to develop a genuine interest in mathematics and be provided with opportunities to apply their knowledge in real-world situations.
Yau also discussed the challenges facing mathematics education in China. He believes that although the Chinese education system has made significant progress in recent years, there is still room for improvement. He suggested that students should be encouraged to develop critical thinking skills rather than just mastering exam techniques. Yau also emphasized the importance of providing students with a broad and comprehensive education in mathematics, as it is essential to foster creativity and innovation.
Shing-Tung Yau’s interview highlighted the importance of mathematics in modern society and its significance in various sectors. He emphasized that mathematics is not just another subject, but rather, it is fundamental to the development of modern technology and human civilization. Yau also acknowledged the benefits of the IMO and the need to promote mathematical education, while cautioning against the overemphasis on exams in education.
The International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) is often seen as just an exam, rather than a platform for mathematical research, according to Shing-Tung Yau, a renowned mathematician. In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Yau argued that excessive emphasis on exams can diminish children’s interest in mathematics, and advocated for greater focus on the development of basic science.
While Yau acknowledged the importance of exams, he argued that children spend too much time preparing for them, which can dampen their enthusiasm for mathematics. Instead, he urged educators to encourage students to pursue their own interests in the subject, and to focus on achieving individual goals rather than competing with others.
Yau also spoke out against the stereotype of mathematicians as socially awkward or eccentric, arguing that most mathematicians are ordinary people who enjoy a wide range of hobbies and interests. He called on the media to portray mathematicians as “thoughtful scholars” rather than quirky outliers.
In terms of popularizing mathematics, Yau suggested that mathematicians could do more to communicate the practical applications of the subject. He cited examples such as group theory, which can be used to solve Rubik’s Cube puzzles, and the Bernoulli Equation, which explains how the pressure in a pipe changes as water flows through it. By demonstrating the relevance of mathematics to everyday life, mathematicians can help to increase public interest in the subject.
Yau also noted the importance of mathematical methods in areas such as investment and stock trading. He argued that mathematicians could make a valuable contribution by explaining how statistical and probabilistic models can be used to make investment decisions. By presenting these ideas in a popular format, mathematicians can engage a wider audience and help to promote the relevance of mathematics in the modern world.
In order to increase interest in mathematics, Yau recommended that mathematicians should engage in science popularization, even if they are not naturally inclined to do so. By communicating the practical applications of mathematics and sharing stories of successful mathematicians, they can help to inspire the next generation of mathematicians and promote the continued development of the subject.
Becoming a mathematician is a great career choice for those who have a talent and interest in mathematics. It’s a stable career with a steady salary, and it doesn’t require sacrificing sleep or hair loss. However, not everyone has the natural ability or inclination to become a mathematician. So, how can ordinary people cultivate their interest in mathematics, and how can parents encourage their children’s interest in the subject?
Many parents are overly concerned with their children’s academic performance and exam scores, while neglecting to foster their interests and curiosity. However, interest and curiosity are the key factors that lead to a lifelong love of learning and the pursuit of knowledge. Parents should give their children the freedom to explore their interests and to engage with the world around them. Children should be encouraged to learn about basic science through exposure to nature and everyday experiences.
Chinese students are under tremendous pressure from kindergarten to high school, which can stifle their natural instincts and curiosity. However, once they graduate from high school, many students feel that they have finished their education and lose interest in learning. To prevent this, it is important to give children the freedom and space to explore their interests and develop a love of learning from a young age.
To become a world leader in technology, China must encourage the next generation to study not only mathematics, but also all basic sciences. Basic science is the foundation of all modern technologies, and China must vigorously develop this field if it wants to become a technological superpower. This summer, an international basic science conference will be hosted to promote this goal. This conference will help inspire the next generation of scientists and encourage them to pursue careers in basic science.
In addition to encouraging children to pursue their interests, it is important to provide them with a strong foundation in middle school and high school. Students need to develop good study habits and gain knowledge through hard work and dedication. By laying a strong foundation in basic science and mathematics, students will be well-prepared to pursue careers in science and technology.
Ultimately, cultivating an interest in mathematics requires a multi-faceted approach. Parents should encourage their children to explore their interests and engage with the world around them. Schools should provide students with a strong foundation in basic science and mathematics. And at the national level, China must invest in basic science research and encourage the next generation of scientists to pursue careers in this field. By working together, we can inspire a new generation of mathematicians and scientists who will drive technological progress and innovation.