Years ago, when I was a beginning and naive graduate student, eagerly studying
mathematics at Princeton, I wanted to know the secret to success in mathematics.
I actually did believe that there must be just one secret that would lead to fame
and fortune in this field. So during tea time in Old Fine Hall, I approached my
all-wise thesis advisor (then reverently called Professor Fox), and naively posed the
What is the secret to success in mathematics?
Ralph Fox, without a moment’s hesitation, fired back:
Work where two research fields are merging.
At that time, I did not fully comprehend the meaning and the significance of his
prompt, laconic answer. But as the years have passed, I have begun to understand
more fully the wisdom behind his terse one-line response. His words of wisdom have
indelibly left an impression that has shaped the many choices made throughout my
research career.
Perhaps, Ralph Fox was referring to his student John Milnor’s success in cre-
ating the field of differential topology, a beautiful merger of differential geometry
and topology. Or perhaps, he was referring to Stephen Smale’s proof of the higher
dimensional Poincare conjecture? Or was it his student John Stallings’ creative
merger of group theory and topology? In any case, throughout my career I have
come to see Ralph Fox’s prophecy repeatedly come true, over and over again.
Now, Ralph Fox’s prophecy is becoming true once again in the newly emerging
field of quantum computation and quantum information, i.e., quantum information
science (QIS). Never before have I found such a convergence of so many research
fields that are currently shaping the development of QIS,...and yes, of mathematics,
itself. Never before has there been such a rich and immense research opportunity
for the mathematical community. In particular, mathematics is now shaping QIS,
and in turn, QIS is now shaping the development of mathematics.
For that reason, I organized and gave an AMS Short Course on Quantum
Computation at the Annual meeting of the American Mathematical Society held
in Washington, DC in January of 2000. This past short course is now recorded and
encapsulated in the AMS book
“Quantum Computation: A Grand Mathematical Challenge for the
Twenty-First Century and the Millenium,” PSAPM, vol. 58, Providence,
RI, (2002).
For the same reason, I also organized at the same AMS meeting an AMS Special
Session on Quantum Computation and Information which has been recorded in a
second AMS book
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