Passionate about the beauty of mathematics

This article was published in our August 2018 newsletter. Sign up here.

Anyone who chats to the mathematician Massimiliano Gubinelli about his research will quickly find themselves hearing what sound like "unmathematical" terms. The 44-year-old uses words like "joy", "beauty" and "intellectual satisfaction". Or talks about new landscapes waiting to be discovered, and a language that can help describe the real world. "And then there is this incredible moment when a new equation appears on the page that did not exist just the day before", says the professor, who teaches at the Institute for Applied Mathematics at the University of Bonn. He explains that such discoveries are his passion – and the reason he became a scientist.

Originally from Italy, Gubinelli studied physics in Pisa and spent many years conducting research as a physicist at the university there. He only ended up in applied mathematics by a rather roundabout route. After Pisa, he spent some time working in Paris before being offered a chair in Germany in 2015. "I hardly knew Bonn at all before, but always wanted to live in a smaller, quieter city", he recounts. So he accepted the appointment.

Political support for science in Germany

Passionate about the beauty of mathematics

In Bonn, Germany’s secret mathematics capital, the conditions for research are outstanding. The university has had a strong mathematics focus ever since the nineteenth century, and today regularly lands one of the top spots in international mathematic rankings. Bonn is the biggest centre of mathematics research and teaching in Germany, achieving high standards that are also reflected in the 2006-founded Hausdorff Center for Mathematics. It not only conducts first-class research, but also provides targeted support for young researchers. "Science in Germany enjoys comparatively high political priority and is supported at both the regional and national level", says Gubinelli, adding that this is often not the case in Italy.

Currently, the Italian scientist is exploring what are known as singular stochastic partial differential equations. To this end, he is also in charge of a sub-project within a large-scale research project entitled "The Mathematics of Emergent Effects" and run by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). "In recent years, I have been working on developing rough path theory", says Gubinelli. As he explains, this is a bit like a meteorological situation: "It is a question of mathematically describing changing spaces and landscapes across which winds blow. In other words, it is about the influence of a random system that cannot be controlled." Gubinelli and his colleagues attempt to make reliable statements and predictions about these spaces.

Great interest in the new research field

There are many applications for this research, as differential equations can be used to describe physical processes for which only local and variable correlations rather than any closed formulae exist – as is the case for instance with the dynamics of gases or liquids. Spectacular advances are currently being made in the area of rough path theory. Accordingly, the research field is attracting a great deal of scientific interest.

This is also evident from the fact that Gubinelli has been invited this year to speak at the International Congress of Mathematicians. Bringing together several thousand mathematicians from all over the world every four years, the congress is the largest meeting of mathematicians anywhere. This year it will be held in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. "It is a great honour to be able to give a lecture there", comments Gubinelli.

Going abroad to get new ideas

The congress plays a useful role when it comes to international networking, among other things – something that happens a great deal in the field of mathematics, emphasises Gubinelli. He also does his best to pass this message on to his students and doctoral candidates. "Our postdocs in Bonn come from all over the world." Gubinelli expressly encourages the young researchers to spend a period of time abroad. "That was not common practice 20 years ago, but these days it is extremely important." As he explains, it is the only way to get new inspiration and new ideas. "Which are absolutely vital for excellent mathematical research."

Various options for young researchers

Students and young researchers will find good conditions for studying mathematics at German universities. In the CHE Ranking, the following universities in particular are outstanding:

University of Bonn

Freie Universität Berlin

Technische Universität Berlin

Bielefeld University

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Technische Universität Kaiserslautern

University of Duisburg-Essen

Young mathematicians can also find a wide range of research opportunities at non-university research institutions in Germany, for example at the:

Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM, Kaiserslautern

Max Planck Institute for Mathematics, Bonn

Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, Leipzig

Oberwolfach Research Institute for Mathematics

Weierstrass Institute for Applied Analysis and Stochastics, Berlin


Hausdorff Center for Mathematics

The Hausdorff Center for Mathematics is a research centre at the University of Bonn. It is dedicated to every facet of mathematics, from pure mathematics to mathematical economics. Fostering of young researchers, from doctoral students to junior professors, plays an important role in the centre’s activities. With its guest programme and cooperative projects, the centre serves as an international platform for mathematical exchange.