Mathematics is the driving force of love, justice, and progress. Mediamax and VOLO launch a joint project, MathArt. It will tell about the talents developing Mathematics in Armenia, and their work.
Mathematics is of key value in the modern world and we hope that MathArt will help attract Armenian youngsters into that particular science.
Arpi Stepanyan is the Scientific Secretary of the Institute of Mathematics of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, researcher at the Department of Real Analysis.
Her workday is full of silence, which is not a strange thing in the life of a mathematician who is deeply engrossed in the science of numbers. The only noise that can be heard in her office during the day the slow whisper of trees coming out of her half-open office window. The peaceful ambience is a necessary working condition though for the 35-year old researcher.
Arpi has inherited the love of math since early childhood from her parents, both mathematicians. She had two options- painting or math, but following her parents’ steps her choice fell on mathematics.
“It has always been math for me. My life has always been full of it, starting from school. So, when time came to choose between Applied Mathematics and Mathematics, the latter won,” she says.
Arpi joined Yerevan State University’s Department of Mathematics and Mechanics in 1999. After getting her master’s degree, in 2005 she started working at the Institute of Mathematics (IM) as a junior researcher. After a while, she was unfortunately forced to quit her job due to a lack of financing and worked as a Scientific Secretary at the National Academy of Sciences. She returned to IM in 2012, but later took a maternity leave; she is married to a mathematician and is a mother of 3 beautiful children.
“My husband is also a mathematician, but he is currently working more in the environmental sphere. I have three kids. Only my son goes to school and he loves math, he is very good at it. No surprise here though. He does his homework at school. In my children’s upbringing, I’m mostly focusing on foreign languages rather than math, trying to provide them with wider options, so that they can make their own choice when they grow up,” Arpi says.
After returning to the IM for the third time, parallel to her scientific research Arpi also began to teach at the American University of Armenia.
“Initially my primary focus was on orthogonal arrays. I had an opportunity to work in Germany and during my time there my focus had somewhat shifted from real analysis to complex one. But my supervisor and I had one common interest - Universal arrays, which I am currently working on.”
Discovering the world of mathematics
Math develops the mind. Sometimes my students ask me why I necessarily need to solve this or that particular math problem. Maybe I won’t need the solution for this specific problem in the future but solving it will make my brain sharper and my mind stronger. Solving math problems on paper helps finding solutions to problems in real life. It gives you satisfaction and a sense of victory.
My students think that solving a math problem is simply a task for me. In fact while teaching it’s a great pleasure for me to see that they understand the task and gain something new from the whole process. You need a unique teaching method with each and every student. With each solved math problem you help your students increase their own self-esteem. Just like in life: overcoming obstacles makes us stronger and increases our spirits. Wisdom comes with age.
Without love there is no winning in mathematics.
Mathematicians are very emotional people but they are a little bit more restrained in expressing their feelings. They treat everyday problems calmly with less dramatics.
There is a wrong stereotype way of thinking that mathematicians are cold and strict people. Mathematics cannot be cold; it requires precision and accuracy, which in turn requires subtlety. In solving a math problem, every little detail and every nuance counts and here lies the beauty of it.
Mathematicians view many things logically without emotion. Their mind works and feels that way. But there are things that cannot be solved solely logically and here is where your heart steps in. This is what mathematics is about and it’s captivating.
Eternal questions through the eyes of a mathematician
Love. It’s a way of living. Loving your husband, kids, parents or friends, it doesn’t matter... You express it differently. But how can one live without love? I remember once reading an article in a magazine where a three-dimensional sine formula was pictured. It was described as mathematician’s formula of love. I couldn’t figure out how they have come up with it.
Life and death. These are natural phenomena. During my first years at the university, learning mathematics was an automatic process, but later on when I began studying logic I was drawn by Gödel's incompleteness theorem which proves that complete systems don’t exist. There can’t be a system which can prove everything. This is some kind of a life theorem. Nothing is perfect in life.
The same applies to death. When I am told that I look younger than I actually am I get angry. It’s insulting for me. I don’t want to look 20 because I used to be different person at that age. It’s a good thing that people get older, mature, and it’s quite natural that death awaits us at the end of this journey. We live in a Christian country after all and this ideology makes it easier to think about death.
Complex problems solved in mathematics and life
What attracted me in mathematics has always been complex - orthogonal arrays and Franklin systems. I can’t say which one was more difficult. It was hard at first but with time the problems became more complex and the solution easier.
I am always trying to treat life easily. But there is the other side as well. It’s rather boring without complications. People enjoy overcoming difficulties. Probably, one of the hardest things I have done and am still doing was having and raising children.
Life expressed in a math formula
I can’t tell for sure what math formula I would have used to describe my life, but I am sure it would have contained sine, cosine and a positive increasing function. I always believed that life is much better at this given minute than it used to be a moment ago. It is increasing positively. Why sine, cosine? Because they fluctuate, one is increasing and the other is decreasing, just like it always happens in life. To cut the story short, to describe my life I would have used trigonometry, an increasing function.
The thin line between the real and unreal
Mathematicians seem to be detached from the real world. We cross that thin line very often. I often dream about math formulas, even find solutions in sleep. Then I wake up and simply solve the problem I have been working on for weeks. This is a common occurrence with mathematicians.
When we start doing something we never think how what we have done can be used later. It’s interesting for us, we have a problem and we simply solve it. We are dealing with things that very often cannot be used directly. In real analysis we can carry out research the results of which are not seen at that moment but can be used in the future, like for example in physics. I think maybe mathematicians also help humanity in some way.
Armenia on the mathematical global map
Armenia occupies its own place on the global mathematical map. We had world-famous mathematicians. For example, Alexander Talalyan, the Head of the Real Analysis Department of NAS Institute of Mathematics, who passed away last year. His works are known everywhere. We have Norayr Arakelyan, who is working on Complex Analysis and is the current head of that department. Our mathematicians are well respected and we have a lot to give back to the world.
Devotees and the future of mathematics
Unfortunately financial problems prevent many talented young people from choosing mathematics. Many of them, especially young men, leave the country or simply choose other occupation, for example Information Technologies. We have a huge potential but we cannot keep it. Today there are more women in our institute than men, because they leave the country and a few of them ever come back.
I hope that thanks to people truly and utterly devoted to mathematics, it will have a bright future in Armenia. But besides mathematicians the state must be also devoted to this science. I hope the situation in the country will improve as well. Our talented and bright young people will never leave the country if the financial situation is solved. They will stay here in Armenia and develop mathematics.
Photos by Emin Aristakesyan
VOLO is the general partner of the project