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Celebrating excellence in Latin American mathematics

Outstanding mathematicians from Latin America and the Caribbean were recognized for their achievements by the Institute of the Mathematical Sciences of the Americas.
An aerial view from Lakeside Village over the Coral Gables Campus. Photo: Mariano Copello/University of Miami
A view from Lakeside Village over the Coral Gables Campus. Photo: Mariano Copello/University of Miami

Before the Institute of the Mathematical Sciences of the Americas (IMSA) was established at the University of Miami, Hispanic and Latino voices were rarely included in the international discourse to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Now, some of the most distinguished mathematicians from countries such as Mexico, Argentina, and Chile are being recognized for their contributions to and achievements in mathematics. 

Mathematical Waves Miami (MWM), a conference series that mutated from the creation of IMSA, is well known for bringing mathematicians from all over Latin America and the Caribbean to collaborate, share ideas, and celebrate one another’s monumental achievements in the field. Inspired by the historic “Mathematische Arbeitstagung” meeting in Germany, MWM sought to connect prominent Latin American mathematical research internationally, pushing for more recognition of the ever-evolving scholarship taking place in the Americas. 

That conference culminated in honoring some of the region’s greatest critical thinkers and problem solvers at the IMSA Prize: Celebrating Excellence in Latin American Mathematics award ceremony on Jan. 24. 

The categories for research prizes and awards included the Established Mathematician IMSA Prize, the Young Mathematician IMSA Prize, the Latin American Mathematical Leadership Award, and the IMSA Fellowship Award. 

Alberto Verjovsky of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) was awarded the Established Mathematician IMSA Prize for his extensive work in geometry, topology, and dynamics, as well as his continued commitment to the development of science and math in disadvantaged regions. 

“Mathematics has so many possibilities for creativity,” Verjovsky said during the awards presentation at Lakeside Village Wednesday evening. “Those tiny nuggets of creativity are what we do it for–it’s like being in the river and looking for gold and you find this one nugget over two weeks of working. Some people are in a gold mine and have access to all this knowledge, but those tiny nuggets are worth everything to me.” 

Some of the most prominent themes during the night, which also spoke to the necessity of the ceremonial recognition of Latin American scholars and their work, included the lack of interconnection between these mathematicians prior to IMSA and the desire to bring more women into the world of high-level math. 

For instance, Raquel Perales, a fellow at UNAM’s Math Institute who was awarded the Young Mathematician IMSA Prize alongside Miguel Walsh of the University of Buenos Aires, discussed her own motivation to bring more female students to the same path she has only begun to trek. 

“There are still a lot of men in this profession which at times can be somewhat uncomfortable,” said Perales, whose research delves into general relativity and geometric analysis. “Sometimes they try to explain something that apparently I, as a woman, don’t understand, when they don’t realize that I actually do understand.” 

For Perales and Walsh, awards like these are opportunities for greater visibility and recognition in a challenging environment, according to IMSA’s mission statement, which also aims to inspire future generations of mathematicians from Latin America that would otherwise not have the resources to join and be successful in the field. 

In addition to these honorees, several fellows from across Central and South America were recognized at the evening’s presentation. Each were rewarded $12,000 to successfully continue their efforts in breaking mathematical barriers, like fellow Daniel Barrera who announced his new international initiative for mathematics at the University of Santiago de Chile. 

Guillermo “Willy” Prado, interim executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, was presented with an honorary award, namely for his continued support and guidance within IMSA and for his help in creating the IMSA Mathematical Societies Collaboration Group. The surprise recognition prompted Prado to thank the institute for the honor while also paying homage to the other honorees. 

“In all sincerity, thank you all so very much for this kind recognition,” Prado said. “It feels particularly humbling given the fact that I’m standing in front of these brilliant minds who have done so much to transform mathematical sciences and who are really coming up with applications to solve some of the most complex problems in the world.” 

As the evening closed, IMSA’s mission was fully realized in bringing together Latin American mathematicians to celebrate their record-breaking achievements. With the region traditionally facing obstacles such as limited funding, language barriers, and a general environment of uncertainty and weak support for science, the landscape reflects the need for initiatives like MWM and IMSA to continue to address these challenges and boost mathematical morale in Latin America. 

University alumnus Jeffrey Fuqua, who was recognized with the Honorary Ambassador of IMSA award for his support, closed the evening by sharing his appreciation for how central the University had been in his own career, and how he was grateful to be a part of IMSA’s development at such a formidable academic institution. 

“My time here at the University was very transformational, and I’ve always been interested in the work of mathematicians and have always wanted to support them,” said Fuqua. “I’m just happy to have made some small contribution to the advancement of mathematics at the University of Miami.”