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Grad student attends global math forum

| Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Notre Dame graduate student traveled to Heidelberg, Germany as part of the first-ever American delegation to the Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF), which unites mathematics and computer science students and researchers with world-renowned laureates.

Renato Ghini Bettiol joined with 19 other students and postdoctoral researchers from the United States in the forum, which took place Sept. 21-26. Bettiol received his bachelor and masters of science from the University of São Paulo in 2008 and 2010, respectively, and his second masters of science from Notre Dame in 2012. He is currently working towards his doctorate, which he is slated to receive in the spring of 2015.

“I work in differential geometry,” Bettiol said. “My work mainly focuses on how curvature — especially positive curvature, like that of spheres — interacts with the global shape of an object. I also work on geometric variational problems, which involve optimizing certain geometric quantities with certain constraints.”

Bettiol, a native of Brazil, said he came across the HLF through two avenues, both here in the U.S. and back in his home country.

“I initially heard about the HLF via the Brazilian Mathematical Society,” Bettiol said. “…  After I heard about the HLF from them, I was also contacted by the director of graduate studies at the Mathematics Department, professor Julia Knight, who mentioned that ND could suggest a name to be part of the American delegation to the forum. By then, I had already submitted my application to the HLF and was later accepted. The application process selected 200 young researchers to attend, 100 from computer science and 100 from mathematics, from an initial poll of about 2000 applicants worldwide.”

Because the HLF brings together established professionals who are well-respected and well-known in their fields, students and postdoctoral participants have an unmatched opportunity to speak with the people whose research they study, Bettiol said.

“This is the second time this event [has been] held, and I got very excited about it when reading about the first one last year,” Bettiol said. “Some of the most brilliant minds of our times gather to meet new generations of researchers and pass their experience. My hope was to drink from their fountain of knowledge, not only on the scientific side, but also on their personal impressions about mathematics and their general world view.”

Karsten Grove, Bettiol’s advisor and a professor of mathematics, said, Bettiol stands out among math students at Notre Dame.

“Renato Bettiol is indeed an exceptional and brilliant student of mine with a remarkable record already and a most promising future,” Grove said. “Aside from strength and talent, he has an open mind and communicates very well with others. I cannot think of anyone more fitting and deserving of this honor.”

Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) and the National Science Foundation sponsored the American delegation, according to an ORAU press release. Rettiol said professional participants included famous mathematicians whose work has greatly impacted modern society.

“The HLF was an amazing experience, all of the participants felt like we were some sort of celebrity, which is a rare phenomenon for those of us working in basic sciences,” Rettiol said. “It was a very exclusive event, with body guards with ear pieces and all, not the standard sight in a math conference.

“In the morning there were talks by the laureates, and in the afternoon we had opportunities for informal interactions with the laureates and among ourselves, including a boat trip on the Neckar river, and various other activities. We also had some panel discussions and workshops, in which we discussed how mathematics and computer science can be used to help developing countries.

“We had participants from Niger, Ecuador, Bangladesh and India share their experiences, and then a lot of interaction between the audience and panelists, which also included as moderators Ingrid Daubechies, president of the International Mathematical Union, and Vint Cerf, currently working at Google and one of the inventors of the Internet. Coming from Brazil, where mathematics is now growing at an amazingly fast pace, … I value very much this interest of distinguished scientists and organizations in helping the development of nations through science and education.”

Bettiol said his experience as student from Brazil contributed to the discussion on mathematics in an international context. He said discussions also focused on new ways to use math to improve global society.

“I do believe that this is a fundamental way in which all of us in scientific fields can help build a better and more rational world together, based in science and knowledge,” Bettiol said. “Many of the laureates at the event visit developing nations on a regular basis where they hold courses for university professors trying to increase their scientific levels. I was very happy to learn about this and contribute my views on how Brazil, in particular, can profit from such opportunities.”

Participants in the forum benefitted immensely from the professional development and personal interaction the forum provided them, Bettiol said.

“Interacting with Laureates that are world references in my area was a profound and transformative experience, and I am sure that I speak for most of the participants at the HLF,” Bettiol said. “I have strong hopes that this meeting, though still in its second edition, will become a tradition and help develop interest for mathematics and computer science as well as increase its appreciation by society as a whole.

“We mathematicians don’t always have the ‘cool factor’ that many other scientists … enjoy from society and the media, but there are plenty of reasons to tell the world about the astonishing beauty of mathematics, which can — and should — be appreciated by all of us.”


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About Andrea Vale

Andrea Vale is a freshman at Notre Dame who has previously written for both the Sun Chronicle and the Huffington Post. She plans to major in English with a Creative Writing concentration and a minor in Journalism.

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