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President's Message

 

Distinguished officials and honorable guests,

 

Today, I'm excited to announce that Beijing Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Applications is established. This institute has a special significance to me and to China. From its conception at the very beginning to now, Mayor Chen Jining has been engaged in every step of the way. In early August last year, he invited me for breakfast and he brought up the idea of setting up an institute. As a first-class scientist-turned-government official, he himself has rich experience and sets his sights far beyond the present. Moreover, he, along with other former presidents, helped bring the then backward Tsinghua University out of obscurity and shape it into one of the world's prestigious research universities. Having been working at the university for a decade, I am deeply impressed by its weighty sense of learning on the campus. The university leaders kindly offered mathematicians like myself a chance to put our knowledge to good use and established the Yau Mathematical Sciences Center, Tsinghua University (YMSC). Over the years, the center rose to fame in the academic circle thanks to significant progress in pure mathematics. With regards to applied mathematics, we also moved into the subject in the early stage, as part of the effort to bring our research up to par with international standards. This has also been my hope for a long time.

 

Mayor Chen, a man of daring, set his mind on shaping Huairou area into a global innovation hub, a place that is comparable with Silicon Valley in the US, College Town in Boston, Cambridge and Oxford in Britain, technology center in Paris, France, and Germany, etc., to advance progress in science and technology. He adopted a two-pronged approach: first, he started with basic science to explore frontier science and technology; second, he applied scientific achievements in industrial setting, so as to benefit the world. Science begins with curiosity, and ultimately enriches our quality of life. After graduating from the University of California, I taught at the Stanford University for six years, then moved on to Princeton and Boston. I have thus gained some knowledge about both the industrial and academic world. So, I share Mayor Chen's vision and agreed to help with the establishment of an institute of mathematical sciences and applications. Several years ago, I visited Hsinchu Science Park in Taiwan, and learned that the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) played a big role in its expansion. It is my hope that one day, our institute will play a similar role, from basic science to applications, then to collaboration with industries in different forms. Our priority should be given to both innovation and development. While learning state-of-the-art technologies from foreign counterparts, we should also create our own technologies and knowledge system. By so doing, our institute will set the trend in the world, and align with China's national conditions.

 

Mayor Chen is also a man of action. In early August last year, he proposed to establish an institute during our meeting, which I agreed from the bottom of my heart. However, I did not expect to hear back from him so soon. On the next day, my colleague Director Xiaoxia from the YMSC told me that Mayor Chen asked Secretary Dai of Huairou district to give us a tour of a local cement factory. Secretary Dai took us to a few places and shared his plans to convert the cement factory, establish an institute, etc. I dislike sloppiness myself and my motto is the best or nothing. Nevertheless, I was impressed by Mayor’s quick response and determination. Before I had a chance to raise any demands, he offered to provide us with necessary supports and assurance. My gut told me that the institute will have a bright future.

 

In 1979, I returned to China for the first time. Since then, four decades has passed. I tried to help China nurture talents, especially talents with mathematical skills at the Chinese Academy of Science. I worked with Yang Lo for many years, later we gained President Lu’s supports. Back then, China was poor and could not afford to invest a great deal of money into science. Besides, student training was at a nascent stage. As a result, despite our ambitions, there was only so much we could do. But the preparations we made over the past several decades are very important. From the time I started to work with the CAS, to the ten years I worked with the Tsinghua University, I am very satisfied with the results. Whenever I spoke of China’s rapid development in the past four decades, many of my foreign friends couldn’t help using the word "amazing".

 

Many people are moved by Mayor’s determination to this institute, including Caucher Birkar, a professor at the University of Cambridge. Last August, Professor Birkar was invited to visit the Tsinghua University. He is young and talented, and won the 2018 Fields Medal, the top honor in mathematics. I expressed my wish to bring in such a thriving scholar to the institute. Upon hearing my suggestion, Mayor Chen took time out of his busy schedule to meet with him and his family. He cut straight to the point and promised to provide necessary supports for him to work in China. Professor Birkar was impressed. Later, we arranged a meeting for him and President Qiu Yong, whom also offered his full support on behalf of Tsinghua University. For a heavy-weight foreign scholar to come to work in China, it’s natural to have many doubts, however, assurances from Mayor Chen and President Qiu had put his mind at ease. He returned to Britain and consulted with his family, in two months’ time, he made up his mind to fly to Beijing and planned to stay for at least two years. If things go well, he will prolong his stay. His joining has a great significance, for many renowned scholars before him normally came to China for a brief period of time like two weeks, they rarely came to teach full-time. Professor Birkar is the first Fields Medalist to work in China full-time, and interested in training Chinese students and scholars and leading the way. Without the help from Beijing and Tsinghua sides, it will be impossible to get him onboard by ourselves. Frankly, even Harvard University couldn't pull it off, for it generally takes two years to hire a tenure-track faculty. Thanks to China's open-door policy, it takes less time to go through procedures. To us, best conditions and top talents are equally important.

 

Besides strong support from Mayor Chen, we have also made a lot of preparations, for example, Beijing city and Director Xiaoxia hired experts from the city and the School of Architecture of Tsinghua University to map out a blueprint, hoping that in two years’ time the cement factory will be converted into beautiful place, where researchers can focus on research without a care in the world. During this two-year transition period, Beijing city will provide well-equipped office facility for us.

 

Though physical structures are essential, talents, the software, are more important. We will cooperate with Tsinghua University, the cradle of elite scholars and graduates. To my knowledge, many of its graduates are working in Silicon Valley in the America. After a decade of efforts, our outstanding graduates and scholars have shaped the YMSC into a world-class research center. Through close cooperation with the YMSC, we believe that this institute will become one of the world's top 10 mathematical centers. Even now, none of the mathematical centers in China made it into this list. Under the leadership of Chinese officials, I believe this situation will change in five years. Moreover, considering the worsening pandemic situation across the globe and the lack of funding in the US and Europe, it's possible that China will become a favorable destination for elite overseas talents. On the strength of Beijing city and Tsinghua University, we are poised to seize this big opportunity and make the goal of becoming one of the world’s top 10 mathematical centers a reality.    

 

Over the past six months, our institute hired 32 scholars, 27 will be onboard this September. Among them, 5 are professors, 2 are specially-invited research fellows, 4 are senior research fellows, 12 are research fellows, 9 are postdocs, 13 are foreign nationals. Area of study include statistics, big data, blockchain, privacy protection, dynamical system, probability theory, statistical physics, coding theory, biomedical informatics & computational biology, numerical analysis, large scale scientific computing, mathematical physics, non-linear differential equation, etc. One thing worth mentioning is that most of the employed scholars will be working full-time instead of short-term visits. Apart from the YMSC, several local universities and departments expressed desire to cooperate with us, including Tsinghua University’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, Center for Statistical Science, Department of Computer Science and Technology, Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the CAS’s several departments, Renmin University of China, Beihang University, etc. We will also hold various activities with other universities in China, and conduct cooperating activities and exchanges with other research institutes around the world. A week ago, we hosted an event online and the response was good. Even foreign professors attended the event, they were glad to conduct research with us. Our summer camp will start next week, the goal is to train talented students by providing courses on blockchain, artificial intelligence, statistics, computer science, etc.

 

I believe that a synergy between institute and industry also matters. Companies like Ping An Insurance, Alibaba, Tecent, NetEase, Microsoft Research have expressed willingness to cooperate with us. My old friend Harry SHUM just retired from Microsoft's HQ and accepted the position of honorary president of this institute. He also accepted the position of professor at Tsinghua University. With his help, we connected with executives of a few companies, whom responded with great enthusiasm. In the foreseeable future, some of their research may be conducted at our institute, and our graduates can serve at big companies or start a business. The reason why we establish an institute for applied mathematics is not limited to promote research and applications of basic science, but to apply our achievements in industries.

 

We couldn't find a better timing to do so, for ideal location and wide supports are at our disposal. China is emerging as a great power, while Europe and America face unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 in 2020, for example, Harvard University implemented a hiring freeze across the university to stem the recent losses of hundreds of millions dollars. Even the wealthiest university in the world is tightening its belt, we can only imagine how other universities (including those in Europe) are faring. Now, it's the perfect timing for China to provide a good environment for elite talents to work their magic. As the world is going into recession, it's unlikely that the outbreak will leave the Chinese economy unscathed in the long-run. But for China to become a strong nation, getting the best talents are crucial. The Central and Beijing local governments have made heavy investments in research on how to translate technologies in industries. Some Chinese universities have been successfully upgraded. The world's attention now is turning to China, an old yet vibrant country, to see what is about to happen. Also, a batch of gifted middle-school and college graduates will become the backbone of our research team. That's why I’m confident that our mathematical center will become one of the world's top 10 mathematical centers in five years.

 

Now, it's the best moment for China to rise, and I, myself, am ready to plunge into the development of China's basic science and applied science, thank you!