By Alessio Figalli*
“The Fields Medal rewards the continuity of a work that has stretched over time starting from the year of my degree in Pisa and of my Ph.D carried out between Pisa and Lyon. There have been very important encounters in my life which have determined the evolution of my career. The first one was with Professor Antonio Corbo Esposito of the University of Cassino, whom I have known since the Mathematical Olympiads at high school. It was he who encouraged me to take, in the summer of 2002, the admission exam for the Faculty of Sciences at the Normale. I didn’t have many expectations regarding this exam, partly because my education had been based mainly on the humanities, but when I saw my name in the list of students admitted to the Normale on the bulletin board at the Palazzo della Carovana, I was so thrilled that I understood there and then what I wanted to do with my life: to become a mathematician. At the Normale Professor Ambrosio was fundamental: his closeness, as well as our conversations which started off in the classroom and continued during lunch and then in his office, gradually began to guide my research interests. Ambrosio was always there, and his concern and appreciation contributed towards the strengthening of my developing self awareness. After that, my meeting with Professor Albert Fathi of the Normale in Lyon, who had come to Pisa for two months in 2004 as a visiting professor of the Scuola Normale, was decisive. It was he who suggested I complete my Ph.D in France and that was the springboard from which my entire career took off.
The most difficult year at the Scuola Normale was the first one because I didn’t have most of the scientific knowledge I needed to keep up with the lessons. I remember in particular my difficulty in following the course in Physics. Once the knowledge gap was filled, however, everything went more easily. I lived 24 hours a day in complete symbiosis with an environment in which almost the only topics of conversation were science and culture. The so-called college life of the Scuola Normale was decisive in developing an aptitude for the pleasure of research and of work which is also a distinctive trait of my present approach. Naturally the seed of this approach was sown by my parents: my father was a university professor of Engineering and my mother a teacher of Latin and Greek in a high school. However, being exposed to mathematics, to competition and to dialogue every day (as occurs at the Scuola Normale) produced in me a surprising change of gear. I discovered that pressure does not disturb me: in fact it stimulates me and doubles my energy. I would like to dedicate the Fields Medal also to this milieu and to the people who contributed towards my education”.
*Alessio Figalli was an undergraduate student at the Scuola Normale between 2002 and 2006, PhD student in 2007