The International Congress of Mathematicians
In the past few days, I had the chance to participate as a selected volunteer in the 2018 edition of the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM). The ICM stands as the world’s largest conference dedicated to Mathematics, taking place every four years and managed by the International Mathematical Union (IMU). This edition — the firstever to happen in a Latin American country — was made possible through the efforts of the Instituto Nacional de Matemática Pura e Aplicada (IMPA).
I was there for all nine days (August 1st to 9th) of the event. My main role was administrative in nature. I was responsible for maintaining spreadsheets to track the materials handed out to hundreds of volunteers (transportation vouchers, meals, uniforms etc.) needed for later accounting. I also worked some days as a “May I Help You?” assistant, guiding attendees, helping with transfers from the airport to hotels, managing school visits, and organizing the award ceremony for the Brazilian Mathematical Olympiad of Public Schools (OBMEP) winners.
During my free time I got to attend various talks, notably Cédric Villani’s Public Lecture, “The age of the Earth: when the Earth was too young for Darwin”, Michael Atiyah’s Abel Lecture, “The Future of Mathematical Physics: new ideas in old bottles”, and Sanjeev Arora’s Plenary Lecture, “The mathematics of machine learning and deep learning”.
I also contributed to an IMPA press article about the congress.
This is me with Akshay Venkatesh during the congress. Venkatesh was one of the 2018 Fields medalists, awarded for his synthesis of analytic number theory, homogeneous dynamics, topology, and representation theory, which has resolved longstanding problems in areas such as the equidistribution of arithmetic objects.
Venkatesh boasts an incredible track record: he turned 13 just before entering the University of Western Australia as its youngest ever student. He completed the fouryear course in three years and became, at 16, the youngest person to earn First Class Honours in pure mathematics from the university. He commenced his PhD at Princeton University in 1998 under, which he completed in 2002. Today he is a professor at the School of Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study.
In this register I hold the book Men of Mathematics, by Eric Temple Bell, which I was reading at the time.^{1} Pointing to the book, I asked Venkatesh: “How do you feel now, being one of them?”. The reaction is exactly what you see in the photo.
If you want to learn more about Venkatesh’s story and his contributions to mathematics, I highly recommend the excellent profile “A Number Theorist Who Bridges Math and Time” written by Erica Klarreich for Quanta Magazine.

Yes, I am aware of all the criticisms surrounding this book and I agree with many of them. But who cares about that? A book that motivated John Forbes Nash Jr. to become a mathematician doesn’t need to satisfy anyone else to prove itself a good book. ↩