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Hubert Curien Memorial Lecture 2016, “When Fundamental Discoveries meet Our Daily Lives”

The importance of how “Fundamental Discoveries meet our Daily Lives” and how important scientific advances are, were analyzed by the distinguished Professor Jean-Pierre BOURGUIGNON during the «Hubert Curien Memorial Lecture 2016» organized by The Cyprus Institute on 13 December.

Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, a distinguished Mathematician, is the President of the European Research Council (ERC) since 2014 is a graduate from École Polytechnique in France, and holds a PhD in Mathematical Sciences from University Paris 7. His research concerns Global Differential Geometry and mathematical aspects of Theoretical Physics.

Jean-Pierre Bourguignon is a graduate from École Polytechnique in France, and holds a PhD in Mathematical Sciences from University Paris 7. His research concerns Global Differential Geometry and mathematical aspects of Theoretical Physics. After 44 years as research fellow at the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, he became directeur de recherche emeritus in 2013. He taught Mathematics at École Polytechnique) and was Director of the world renowned Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques in Bures-sur-Yvette (1994-2013). He served as President of the Société Mathématique de France (1990-1991) and of the European Mathematical Society (1995-1998). He was awarded the Paul Langevin Prize by the Académie des Sciences in 1987. He is a member of the Academia Europaea, a foreign member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences, and an honorary member of the London Mathematical Society. He holds honorary doctorate degrees from Keio University, Japan, and Nankai University, China.

According to Prof. Bourguignon, the usefulness of basic research is sometimes challenged. It is often tempting to look only at practical solutions to well posed problems. There are many historical examples showing that such an approach is too narrow, and in some cases plainly counterproductive.
As he convincingly argued in his lecture, in the last 20 to 30 years, there have been many examples of synergies between esoteric-looking research and unexpected applications with far reaching societal and economic consequences.

During the lecture, some theoretical concepts which have historically been very influential on a number of human activities and with major implications for the economy were analysed. The focus was on examples taken from the mathematics’ field, as it has been the domain in which Prof. Bourguignon has been active. Knowing the fundamental law of Mechanics was a turning point for the development of industry, but also of military warfare, as according to Prof. Bourguignon, the equations of motion made possible the prediction of motions, and the concept of force made it possible to conceive machines by analysing precisely actions. The practical implications of General Relativity and its applications to the precision of GPS, the introduction of quaternions and their use in Robotics, random walks to Google algorithms, wavelets to image analysis and processing, were also broadly analysed during the presentation. Prof. Bourguignon closed his analysis with two examples coming from Physics and Biology: graphene and gene editing.
The key lessons to be learnt are the vanity of dressing up a wall between basic and applied research and the need to leave room for researchers to pursue their ideas freely and to develop conditions to encourage them to take a long enough perspective.

The event was attended by the state and civic officials, ambassadors, members of the Board of Trustees of The Cyprus Institute, and distinguished personalities from the scientific and business world.

Download media coverage of the 2016 Hubert Curien Memorial Lecture (PDF)

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