When the atomic bomb was dropped, he gave up being a Physicist: Who is Alexander Grothendieck?

Alexander Grothendieck is considered by many to be the greatest mathematician of the 20th century. He focused on algebraic geometry for most of his career, and his contributions led to significant advances in many problems, including Fermat's Last Theorem.

By David Foster Published on 23 Şubat 2024 : 20:16.
When the atomic bomb was dropped, he gave up being a Physicist: Who is Alexander Grothendieck?

However, what really made him known, beyond his revolutionary works, was his courage to follow his own path by rejecting the frameworks and methods determined by the academic status quo.

In fact, the reason for the decision he made at the age of 17 is like a clue for the rest of his life. Although he wanted to, he gave up studying physics and preferred to study mathematics. The reason is that he desperately thought that physics was dangerous after the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You should get to know this interesting mathematician a little more closely.

His father, Alexander Tanaroff, was a Jewish anarchist who fought against Russian tsarism. He was captured by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, eventually escaping to Western Europe and losing an arm in the war. While continuing his life as a street photographer, he married writer Johanna Grothendieck in the mid-1920s.

Alexander Grothendieck was born to such parents in Berlin on March 28, 1928. In 1933, his family left Germany to join the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, he reunited with his mother and father in France.

Alexander Grothendieck (28 March 1928 – 13 November 2014) was a French mathematician who became the leading figure in the creation of modern algebraic geometry. His research extended the scope of the field and added elements of commutative algebra, homological algebra, sheaf theory, and category theory to its foundations, while his so-called "relative" perspective led to revolutionary advances in many areas of pure mathematics. He is considered by many to be the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century.

However, his father was arrested and eventually sent to Auschwitz, where he died in 1942. Alexander, who attended the Collège Cévenol secondary school founded by anti-war activists and acquired his first love for mathematics there, continued his education in France after the war.

He gave lectures at Harvard University between 1950 and 1951. He received his doctorate in 1953. Along the way, he becomes a leading expert in the theory of topological vector spaces. Starting from 1957, he shifted the focus of his studies to algebraic geometry and homological algebra.

He is also an ardent activist. In the 1960s, he refused to participate in conferences sponsored by NATO, NASA, and similar defense-based organizations. At the age of 39, he declares himself a stateless world citizen. In 1967, he went to Vietnam under American bombardment. In a forest shelter, he lectures on homological algebra for about two weeks to an audience of 30-40 students from the mathematics department of the University of Hanoi.

His most creative period was the twelve years he spent at the French Institute for Advanced Scientific Studies (IHÉS). With his charisma and leadership, the institute turns into a brand-new mathematics school. When he learned that five percent of IHÉS's revenues were covered by the French Ministry of Defense, he resigned after arguments with the institute's founders.

A month later, he gave a striking speech at the University of Paris. In front of hundreds of listeners, he discusses issues he cares about, such as the prevalence of nuclear weapons, the arms race, and the threat posed by technological development to humanity. He goes further and mentions that mathematical research should be avoided because it is a part of technological developments.

In the early 1970s, he started an environmentalist movement against war and imperialism called Survivre et Vivre, but this movement failed to become popular. He rebels against injustice and the contamination of science. He is always on the side of those who are defenseless against power and power. Unhappy in comfortable places; He always says that he feels good among the poor. His house is always open to those on the streets and those who are excluded.

In 1973, he abruptly ended his academic career and retired to a small town. He never fully answers questions such as why he came to such a decision and what his creative and restless spirit was occupied with afterwards. He left thousands of pages of mathematical and non-mathematical works throughout the 1980s. Although he never published in many fields, his ideas inspired mathematicians.

Alexander Grothendieck was awarded the Crafoord Prize by the Swedish Academy in 1988. However, he surprised the mathematical world by rejecting this award worth 160,000 dollars. The reason for rejecting the award is the pollution, corruption, and dishonesty of the scientific and political world.

He experiences psychological problems throughout his sixties. He disappeared in 1991, after burning thousands of pages of text containing his work. He cuts off ties with his friends, family, and colleagues and ends all social relationships.

Many rumors emerged about him in the following years. Some say he was a Buddhist, some say he shepherded goats and dabbled in radical ecological theories. Another rumor is that he is working on a fifty-volume work that includes many philosophical topics such as "the physical structure of free will".

In a letter he wrote to one of his students in 2010, he asked that all his works be removed from libraries and new editions not be made. His life, which continued in defiance of evil and evil, would end in a hospital in France in 2014, at the age of 86.



The Anarchist Abstractionist — Who was Alexander Grothendieck?

“The greatest mathematician of the 20th century” — Le Monde