Hot Berkeley Prof Gets His Kit Off For Calculus

This interview was originally published in The Times of Israel.


Edward Frenkel can’t make you love math, but he’s sure going to try. His new book, Love & Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality (Basic Books, 2013) is the latest example of his efforts to make the beauty and wonder of modern mathematics accessible to anyone.

Part autobiography, part math tutorial, “Love & Math” recounts Frenkel’s personal journey from being denied admission to Moscow State University because of anti-Semitic policies to becoming a successful, young math professor at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley.

Among the chapters about his unfolding life, Frenkel intersperses engaging explications of the mathematical concepts that led him to his work on the Langlands Program, considered to be a Grand Unified Theory of mathematics that enables researchers to translate findings from one field of mathematics to another, and to connect mathematics to quantum physics.

But this is probably the only book you’ve seen use a borscht recipe to try to teach you quantum duality.

All it takes is one look at Frenkel to see that he is trying not only to break stereotypes about mathematics, but also about mathematicians. This 45-year-old professor wears a stylish haircut and expensive jeans, not nerdy glasses and a pocket protector.

He’s surely the first mathematician to appear nude on film, as he does in a silent short movie he co-directed and starred in. It’s called “Rites of Love and Math,” and it pays homage to “Rites of Love and Death,” a cult classic by Japanese author and director Yukio Mishima. In the allegorical film, Frenkel plays a mathematician who discovers the mathematical formula for love. Fearing that it will be stolen and used for harmful purposes, he realizes he must die — but not before tattooing the formula on his lover’s body.

The Times of Israel spoke with Frenkel about how Soviet anti-Semitism almost crushed his dream of becoming a mathematician, his views on math education, and taking his clothes off in front of the camera.

Click here to read the interview and watch the trailer for “Rites of Love and Math.”

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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