Fields Medal Symposium 2020

Speaking points

Dr. Mona Nemer
Chief Science Advisor of Canada

Fields Medal Symposium 2020

Virtual address

October 19, 2020

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Hello everyone. Let me start by sharing with all of you a virtual welcome to the 2020 Fields Medal Symposium. I am happy to be with you today.

The vital and increasing need for math in our society is evident. It certainly is evident to me. In fact, I minored in math in my undergrad. So I am a bit of a closet mathematician. I applaud your dedication to develop and adapt mathematics to addressing the world’s complex problems. And to the pure mathematicians – I love you too!

I recall that the last time I spoke to the Fields Institute, I issued you a challenge: Why not develop a list of the most pressing mathematical problems related to global challenges of the 21st century? That request was intended to spark a larger, multidisciplinary conversation. At the time, I had no idea how prescient it was. Here we are, two years later, in the midst of a global pandemic that has brought society to its knees.

As you know, the last eight months have been marked by the challenges of the pandemic -- what a puzzle! Thankfully, these are challenges that mathematicians love to take on. As I look back on what we the scientific community have accomplished, I can say that science and math are leading the fight in defeating COVID-19. I’m sure you will agree. Our work is enabled thanks to the collective multidisciplinary effort by the scientific community, which of course includes the field of mathematics.

Just before the pandemic took hold in Canada, I assembled task forces and expert groups to address emerging questions around COVID-19, and to inform the government’s response. In fact, we have a dedicated expert group on modelling to provide policy guidance. Many of these experts are familiar faces to the Institute’s ongoing programing. They, along with other experts, provided invaluable advice on predicting and managing the spread of the disease, identifying hot spots across the country, developing recovery strategies, and identifying data gaps. This was a very helpful contribution to the national response, as evidenced in the government’s support for modelling. I am profoundly grateful for all the expert advice I’ve received.

No one can say how long it will take to defeat COVID-19, but as I said earlier, there is no doubt that science is leading the fight. And I hope that you, as mathematicians, share my belief in the leadership that science can provide. Going forward, we need more mathematicians to step up and participate in public discourse.

Thanks to all of you we will succeed in meeting the Covid challenge and the other challenges to come. I am confident, that with the help of the Fields Institute, we can solve this puzzle and the many challenges ahead. I wish you all the best for a successful and stimulating symposium.