"Producing ideas" with an "aesthetic vision": such is the creed of Hugo Duminil-Copin, a young French mathematician who was awarded the prestigious Fields Medal on Tuesday, along with three other people, considered the equivalent of a "
Nobel of Mathematics
and awarded every 4 years.
With a bright gaze behind large glasses, the 36-year-old probabilist describes the happiness he feels in seeking rather than finding.
"It's the best, especially since it's a collective process, where all the beauty is in the interaction with others", explained, before the announcement of his prize, this researcher who collects distinctions for ten years.
Born on August 26, 1985, Hugo Duminil-Copin was appointed permanent professor in 2016 at the Institut des Hautes Études Scientifiques (IHES), which has seen seniors as prestigious as they are legendary, such as the mathematician Alexandre Grothendieck.
“It's a place that's made for me, for my creative side,” he says.
A haven of greenery, located in Bures-sur-Yvette (Essonne) on the campus of the University of Paris-Saclay, which knows how to "offer time to the researcher".
"This slowness in daily life is very fruitful because I need time for ideas to come, for them to settle quietly, for them to take shape," he explains.
The taste of teaching
In this place, close to his native Châtenay-Malabry, he can exercise a “very visual intuition” of the mathematical problems to be solved, in a head where “there are very few formulas and many drawings”.
All with the concern for a “certain elegance” in the demonstration.
Even if the secret of IHES is to free the researcher from any obligation, including that of teaching, Hugo Duminil-Copin sacrifices to this passion.
He also works at the University of Geneva, which offered him his first position after his doctorate.
Because teaching is “perhaps in the end the most important aspect of this profession”, according to him.
A conviction inherited from a sports teacher father, and a dancer mother who became a teacher.
He himself saw himself as a maths teacher, before realizing that he had to “still try to do research”.
Teaching is an opportunity for him to constantly rework concepts, to better distill them.
A work that also serves the researcher, just like the exchange with physicists who use its mathematical tools to derive applications.
Love at first sight for statistical physics
From his career until the aggregation of maths at the École Normale Supérieure, he remembers key meetings, including the one with this preparatory class teacher, at Lycée Louis-Le-Grand, and his "very enthusiastic vision of mathematics" .
But also two university professors: the probabilist Jean-François Le Gall, a “so incredible teacher“, unfolding his course with an ease which made him feel “light“.
And, in Master, Wendelin Werner, Fields medalist too, whose course devoted to the theory of percolation will be a "love at first sight" involving Hugo Duminil-Copin in the mathematical branch of statistical physics.
Today, he cherishes the company of his “closest brothers in arms and colleagues”, Ion Manolescu and Vincent Tassion, respectively professors at the Universities of Friborg and Zurich.
"It's the bliss of maths at its peak when I work with them, thanks to an exchange of ideas that represents perpetual stimulation," he says.
A normal childhood
He still sees himself as “a very, very normal person.
I do not fit too much into the clichés of genius”.
As a child, he preferred astronomy to mathematics, and was "not pushed at all by his parents", who were keen to "confront him with various things", with a lot of sport, music and friends. .
“When we talk about preparing to become a researcher, we think of intelligence, academic training.
But there is also this mental balance which is very important”, he notes.
Case in point, the ideas of this young father continue to come to his mind “anytime, in the middle of the night or in the shower”.
But he forces himself to put them aside to treat them at work, because his “priority is on the personal side, to spend time with my daughter and with my wife”.
Three other mathematicians received the Fields Medal on Tuesday in Helsinki, including Ukrainian Maryna Viazovska, the second woman to receive this prestigious honor since the award was created in 1936. The other two winners of this award are the US-based researcher United June Huh and Britain's James Maynard.