From Paris to Pamplona

1990/09/01 Oilarra, A. Iturria: Elhuyar aldizkaria

Once the fortnight organized by the UEU in Pamplona, it is interesting to review the different areas of information. The introductory conference was entrusted to a researcher residing in Paris, María Jesús Esteban. When we had the opportunity to bring the microphone closer we had the following interview.

Elh.- Some details about your life (where you were born, etc.) would you give it to us?

M.J.E.- I was born, I was born in Barakaldo 34 years ago and then lived in Burgos until I was seven and then in Basauri. I studied Mathematics in Leioa. Then I went to Paris to do the thesis and stayed there.

Elh.- And when did you go to Paris?

M.J.E.- 12 years ago, in 1978. I went to do the thesis for three years, and then stayed there watching things happen.

Elh.- What was the reason for the thesis in Paris and not in Leioa?

M.J.E.- In Leioa there was no possibility at that time. Now it is a little easier, but it is not easy to do the thesis in Leioa and do it with mathematics. The issue was going to Madrid or Paris and I preferred Paris because there are more options. In addition, the French government gave me a scholarship and I went there.

Elh.- After the thesis in Paris, what?

M.J.E.- After finishing the thesis I got a good job in research and then it was quite tempting. To begin with, I will stop a little more thinking, once the thesis is finished it is quite difficult to follow and I followed and then I married one there...

Elh.- And you in what exactly work: only in class, in class, in research...?

M.J.E.- My job is exclusively research. Sometimes I teach because I want to, but my work is just research.

Elh.- How you see it: researchers should be teachers at the same time or should there be special positions for researchers and teachers? Here is debate at the university.

M.J.E.- France is not the only place, but there is a research organization (no need to teach) and it is usually the teachers who carry out the research. I think it is better to teach, do research at the same time as a teacher. Maybe give less classes to do research. In some special cases, if it is genius, it would be good to devote itself to research alone, but if not, I do not believe. I, for example, probably start in college.

Elh.- Yesterday in the introductory lecture you explained what a mathematician can do in society. Would he briefly explain what he said yesterday or what a mathematician can do in today's society or today?

M.J.E.- I talked about the application of mathematics, I tried to explain how a mathematician can work today on concrete problems and I gave some examples. For example, I explained how they work on concrete projects that work with physicists and engineers in some industries.

Fdo.- Would you give an example?

M.J.E.- Those I said yesterday, for example: to make planes or to learn the optimal shape of a structure and things like these, how to design a material with good properties (elasticity, etc.) dispose. The models used to learn these problems are mathematicians and some mathematicians work on them.

Lh.- There is a division between pure mathematics and applied mathematics. How do you see the future of mathematics at this time in the medium term? Where will mathematics go from?

M.J.E.- We have to do everything, not just for the application. Sometimes this would lead them to work in a very narrow way. Normally in applied mathematics there are very special problems and then you have to learn a little the steps that are violated from the mathematical point of view; see more, study the theory around and do things. Therefore, I think both are necessary. Working alone in applied mathematics makes no sense; you also have to do basic mathematics. And that is a danger in most cases, because now money is given to do applied things, governments give money, and foundations are needed, because without a base you cannot work for a long time.

Elh.- And where does the research of pure mathematics go right now?

M.J.E.- Now it is more difficult to explain, it is more specialized. In many ways we work only in mathematics; in algebra, in geometry... I think it is difficult to explain it, in algebraic topology there is enough contact. Nowadays there is a lot of work to do in mathematics.

Elh.- At least in recent times, perhaps mixed with physics, you hear a lot about chaos theory, fractals and things like that and do mathematicians have something to say in theoretical aspects?

M.J.E.- Yes. The place where chaos can be or what fractals are purely mathematical and physical problems. Many mathematicians work on chaos, for example. But chaos is not a fundamental problem, there are a thousand more interesting problems.

Elh.- Yesterday he mentioned the ethics in his speech, the ethics of the researchers. What is the ethics of researchers?

M.J.E.- Depending on the project in which you are involved, whether or not you like the objectives of this project, sometimes the implications are highly polluting; in the arms industry or in this kind of thing or genetic manipulation. Some don't care, but others do, and then they don't want to work on those things. Right now it is a totally personal problem. Those who want work on it and others say no.

Elh.- Yesterday there was a small debate in the assembly hall. In fact, the private industry currently uses, at least in the Basque Country, the university's resources to conduct research. To what extent should it be controlled by institutions or should mechanisms be organized?

M.J.E.- It would be possible for an organization to be in college to channel a little this contact. On the one hand, to capture the demands of the industry and then, together with the researchers, distribute the existing work and control what is done. There are such associations abroad.

Elh.- How is this problem solved in France?

M.J.E.- There are associations of this type in the university. If a researcher who works in the industry has a project and does not know any researcher who can work on it, he contacts these associations and the associations put in contact a person of their own university so that he can carry out that work and channel the negotiation. There are associations of this type, private. Then, normally, these associations control scientists. These scientists act as a bridge between other researchers and between industry and usually receive a certain percentage. It is a business.

Elh.- Can not the private industry somehow control the research that is carried out in the university through the business?

M.J.E.- If people accept it. Sometimes the projects they propose are not interesting and only considered for money, but in other cases very interesting studies are carried out and everything is very marked and of very little interest.

Elh.- Moving to another area, what is the current situation of mathematics in Euskal Herria? Why does the mathematician go outside?

M.J.E.- Sometimes they are personal and sometimes professional reasons. Going outside seems totally normal here and anywhere. It's good to go outside, see other things, especially because there aren't many people and many things to see here. It seems normal to me and it is very healthy to go outside, for example to do the thesis and to see other things. Returning is another problem. Sometimes we go outside and see other possibilities and there we remain. That's a danger, but I think to avoid the risk you can't tell people not to go outside. It is healthy and some of us are left out, but others will come back and it will be good.

Elh.- Do you think that Basque society accepts, knows or appreciates in any way the work of Basque mathematicians?

M.J.E.- Mathematics is a science quite unknown to many people, not only here, everywhere. People don't understand what math is, what math is, what they know is operations.

Elh.- And at the institutional level helps or... I have the impression that mathematicians can be quite marginalized here, in institutions or in a university environment.

M.J.E.- I believe that at the beginning of this century there was enormous confusion among all sciences; in short, mathematicians of other centuries were both theologians, philosophers, physicists, .. everything. In this century the sciences were quite different and each advanced its way, and not only here. Everywhere mathematics was quite isolated, both because the others did not want to be related to mathematicians, and because mathematicians might be isolated. In recent years in many places there is at least a tendency to tighten the relationships between physics and mathematics, but it takes time to see that there is much work in common, little by little and with patience.

Feb.- Finally, the last question about the EU. It will be about ten years when he came to the EU for the last time. What difference have you noticed since then both in the UEU and in this world of Basque, if you have detected it?

M.J.E.- In general I see something similar. Unfortunately I see the mathematics department quite weak, but I think it's not something new. A few years ago it is quite weak, because there are fewer people or because we do not agree. I haven't seen other sessions, I see different people, new people. In my department we hope to improve in the coming years.