“This guy will win a Fields Medal!”

One of this year’s Field Medalists has a strong bond with Catalan mathematicians. BGSMath alumnus Xavi Ros – Oton worked with Alessio Figalli while being a postdoctoral fellow at UT Austin. Just a few days after he was awarded the prestigious distinction, we asked him to share with Penta readers what makes Alessio a very special person and a great mathematician.

The first time I met Alessio Figalli was in a summer school in Ischia in 2011, during my first year as a PhD student in Barcelona. He was giving a course on free boundary problems, the topics on which I later worked with him for several years.

One of the things that I remember from that week in Ischia was Francesco Maggi talking about Alessio and saying “This guy will win a Fields Medal.” I started working with Alessio in 2014, when I arrived at UT Austin as a new postdoc. Something that anyone can see when talking to him is that he is a very friendly and down-to-Earth person. But then, when discussing math with him, one realises immediately that he is also brilliant and extremely fast – way faster than anyone else I have ever discussed math with.

It is incredible how quickly he can catch up new ideas or read complex math papers, this is still surprising for me! Even though he is much faster than others, he is always receptive to different ideas, is supportive and encouraging, and never condescending. Moreover, he has always good advice for younger researchers, and is very helpful and generous with his students and postdocs.

On the personal side, I enjoyed very much his birthday parties in Austin, where several professors, postdocs, and visitors would have a BBQ at his backyard, and stay there until late evening. After my time as a postdoc at UT Austin I moved to Zurich, where he is a professor at ETH. Now that we’re in Zurich, I enjoy very much having lunch with him and Joaquim Serra at the ETH terrace, and discussing math in his office.

I always thought that he should and would probably win the Fields Medal, and I was really happy to find out this summer that Francesco was indeed completely right! (Author: Xavier Ros-Oton)


Xavier Ros - Oton

BGSMath Alumnus
Universität Zurich

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