Yesterday I came across a photo of two gentlemen sitting outside of my old grad-school student lounge. They are Sasha Beilinson and Vladimir Drinfeld, two mathematicians from my alma mater who were awarded this year’s Wolf Prize in Mathematics.

The CS department at the University of Chicago shared space with Mathematics and Statistics in my day, so it was not unusual to encounter mathematicians while having lunch (or a nap) in the lounge. There have been many usefulcollaborations and intersections between these departments.

I have no idea what Sasha or Vladimir do. I tried to understand. I glanced at their ground breaking work, a book called Chiral algebras. They state in the introduction “Chiral algebras have their origin in mathematical physics;” and “Chiral algebras are “quantum” objects.” Ok.

Drinfeld and Beilinson still run the Geometric Langlands Seminar that of course captures the essence of what they care about most. As best I can figure, Langlands,himself a 1996 Wolf prize recipient, is a mathematician who envisioned building links between algebra and modern physics. Drinfeld and Beilinson have extended that work. Maybe the best explanation of this undertaking is provided by Edward Frenkel.

If Frenkel is still too abstract for you, then Mitya Boyarchenko suggests that this poem that I include below might be of use in understanding the Langlands talks

A man called Pakhomych, shaking as he rode on the carriage footboards,

Carried a bunch of forget-me-nots.

He got corn on his heels,

And treated them at home with camphor.

Reader! Having discarded the fable’s forget-me-nots,

It is really heartening that discrete geometry and other branches of advanced mathematics can be use to preserve democracy — much in the spirit of the 1964 voting rights act (being signed in the featured image).

Tufts University mathematician Moon Duchin has done a lot of work in this area, leading the effort to train mathematicians to be expert witnesses in gerrymandering cases. Duchin’s Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group page has a lot of useful resources.

Consider registering for one of the gerrymandering trainings if you’re a mathematician, statistician, or data scientist based in the Bay Area!

In the US, the African American scholar (and February 1st Google doodle subject) Carter G Woodson began working in 1926 to establish “Negro History Week“, for in Woodson’s day the contributions of Black people were “overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them.” Woodson’s Negro History week evolved into today’s US Black History Month thanks to the efforts of student activists of the 1970s.

My partner, Dr Gayatri Sethi, reminds me that the aspiration of marginalized and minoritized peoples to be heard, to enter into equity in whatever place they call home is universal.

Building an equitable mathematics community, or better yet an equitable world, should not be confined to a single month — it is an undertaking that will require continuous and deliberate effort. But it is encouraging and inspiring to see many hopeful signs on a global scale.

Do you know of similar efforts in other countries to encourage the participation of marginalized peoples in science and mathematics? If so, please leave a comment or drop an email!