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Monday, October 17, 2016

Math Minds: Farid Tari

Last week we had Professor Farid Tari of Instituto de Ciências Matemáticas e de Computação visit the Center to give a talk about umbilic points. Professor Tari was born in El-Kseur, a small town 20km south of Bejaia. He has many years of math experience as both a researcher and professor, working in Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Brazil during his career. Co-ops Ben and Kelsey interviewed him shortly after the talk which can be found on YouTube here.

What would you say is your mathematical specialty?

I work in singularity theory and its applications to differential geometry and differential equations.

What research are you doing and why did you choose it?

If you look at the surface of full cup of coffee or tea, you will see that the reflection of light on the surface of the liquid form a curve. The curve has some sharp turning points called singular points. Some singular points of curves split in several other singular points or disappear completely as we deform the curve. Right now I am trying to understand how these singular curves deform but making sure that the deformations  keep some properties of the the shape of the curve. The problem is part of an ongoing research activity by various people on the differential geometry of  singular submanifolds of Euclidean spaces and of other spaces such as Minkowski spaces.

Do you have a favorite mathematician, living or deceased?

Not one but several. I cannot name only one as they are my friends. Mathematicians are human beings and my favorite are humble geniuses.

When did you first become interested in math? Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to pursue this field?

When I was at school, about 13 years old in a small village in North Africa and I managed 
to solve a hard problem that my teacher set for the class. After that I tried to solve all the problems in the textbooks.

Is there anyone in particular that you would credit with guiding you to mathematics?

My school teacher Mrs. Thomas. I hope she is still alive and well. She went back to her country 
after she taught me for one year. She was the teacher who gave us the hard problem that I managed to solve. She was full of praises and I didn't want to let her down after that, so I started doing all the exercises in the textbook. Mrs Thomas always found time to check my solutions and made encouraging remarks. Now a teacher myself, I learned from her how important positive feedback is as a tool for student learning.

What was your favorite upper-level math course that you’ve ever taken, and why was it your favorite?

I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Science and Technology Houary Boumedian, Algies, Algeria. The syllabus then was very much influenced by the Bourbaki school (too abstract!). Nevertheless, I enjoyed most of the courses. In particular, the courses that are still relevant to me are those on Differentiable Manifolds, Topology and Group Theory. I also took some heavy courses on Functional Analysis that I enjoyed then but do not use much now, except that they help me follow talks in seminars and general conferences on the subject.

If you could attend a class taught by any math professor living or deceased, whose class would it be and why?

There is this professor at Durham University (United Kingdom) named John Bolton.  We were colleagues when I used to work there (now I work at the University of Sao Paulo in  Brasil). John was the star professor and got the best feedback (questionnaires) from the students. I observed some of his lectures. John has the ability to make the students comfortable  with learning new material. He magically conveys the key points of the lecture without being bogged down by difficult mathematical language and notation. When I started my job at Durham University I was given a course to teach in the second term.  As it happened, the course was an annual one and was taught by John Bolton in the first term. When I got the end of the year questionnaires from the students, one of them wrote "Bring back John Bolton"!

Do you have any general advice for students looking to pursue a degree in mathematics or a career in the field?

My general advice to students is to do what you like and give your best to the task. That way you will get more out of your experience at university. If you like mathematics,  then do it! There is a wide choice of career for you after you graduate as you will be equipped with transferable skills.


Thank you for the wonderful talk, Farid! We hope to see you again in the future! 

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