Coffee chat with Tadashi Tokieda

Professor Tadashi Tokieda joined us over coffee and tea last week. Professor Tokieda was previously the Director of Studies in Mathematics at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and is currently a Professor of Mathematics at Stanford. He will be teaching Math 53: Ordinary Differential Equations with Linear Algebra in the spring. Professor Tokieda began by describing his transition from being a painter in Japan to a classical philologist in France. Despite his love for linguistic quirks -- he casually explained to us the geographical origin of the word “apricot”, which happens to have the same root as the word “precocious”, Professor Tokieda was one day inspired by a biography of a Russian physicist, Lev Landau, to pursue mathematics. He then learned basic math from a Russian textbook (requiring him to learn math and Russian at the same time) and enrolled in a math degree at Oxford (requiring him to learn English over the course of a few months). At the end of our chat, Professor Tokieda emphasized the important distinction between “doing what you really like” and “doing things that you are influenced to think that you ought to like”. And when asked what the most important topic in today’s mathematics is, Professor Tokieda suggested that the question is not a valid one. To him, “mathematical topics are like friends” that he has accumulated over the years -- he possibly could not choose the most important one! Written by Megumi Sano.