National Math Festival: Supporting the Math of Today and Tomorrow

The Institute was invited by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute to cosponsor and promote the country’s first National Math Festival, a three-day celebration held April 16–18 in Washington, D.C., to encourage and support the math of today and tomorrow.

Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank and Institute Trustee since 1998, opened the weekend by discussing the importance of longterm investments in education and basic research:

To believe in basic research is to believe in the future. . . . It is difficult to foresee where the next big and small wave of technological innovation will come from. What we know is that it will spring out of an environment where there is a burning desire to expand knowledge, both at the theoretical and experimental levels—an environment where fundamental research in math, and more generally science, is the highest priority of program design.

Marilyn and James Simons, Vice Chairman of the Institute’s Board—whose Simons Foundation provided generous support to the festival, along with Carnegie Corporation of New York, Google, and the Charles and Lisa Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences, among others—were present throughout the activities, which included a congressional briefing with Senators Lamar Alexander, Al Franken, Patty Murray, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Following a broad-reaching talk on the returns on basic research by Eric Lander, co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Institute Board Chairman Charles Simonyi discussed his personal support of and experiences with basic research’s exponential reach.

Keith Lane, Keith Lane, Amanda Kowalski, Amanda Kowalski
From left: Senator Chuck Schumer with Robbert Dijkgraaf; Marilyn and James Simons with Senator Harry Reid (center); Charles Simonyi (right) with MSRI Chairman Roger Strauch; Mario Draghi

The festival included a forum on building the profession of math teachers in America and a free day-long public showcase of more than seventy exhibitions, performances, and lectures, attended by tens of thousands of visitors. The public turnout for the event was overwhelming and enthusiastic— the audience for a talk on the secrets of the Rubik’s Cube by Matthew Kahle, Member (2010–11) in the School of Mathematics, was standing room only (see Curiosities: Permutation Puzzles from Archimedes to the Rubik's Cube).

The festival was a testament to the potential of the larger research community to influence the nation’s priorities when it comes to supporting the importance of mathematics.