Asia’s Scientific Trailblazers: Pham Hoang Hiep

Famed for being Vietnam’s youngest full professor to date, Professor Phạm Hoang Hiep is taking local mathematics research to greater heights.

Pham Hoang Hiep
Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology

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AsianScientist (Mar. 27, 2020) – Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all use math on a daily basis—from basic arithmetic when we buy things to understanding the statistics that we constantly see on the news. These numbers that we commonly encounter are referred to as real numbers, or any tangible value that can be represented as a decimal, like 5 and 7.3333333.

But not all math problems can be solved with real numbers alone. Higher-order mathematics often requires a bit more imagination in the form of imaginary or complex numbers. Imaginary numbers are defined as the square roots of negative numbers, and unlike their real counterparts, cannot be graphed on a normal number line. The study of imaginary numbers and their functions is referred to as complex analysis.

Professor Pham Hoang Hiep of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology has dedicated his academic life to uncovering the mysteries of these imaginary numbers. For his outstanding contributions to the field of complex analysis and in recognition of his organizational leadership in advancing mathematics in Vietnam, Pham was awarded the 2019 Ramanujan Prize for Young Mathematicians from Developing Countries by the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics.

Proving that age is really just a number, Pham also made waves back in his native Vietnam in 2017 for being appointed as its youngest full professor to date at the age of 35. Speaking to Asian Scientist Magazine, Pham describes his views on mathematics’ relevance to the sciences and describes his plans for cultivating the same passion for mathematics in his young students.

  1. What first sparked your interest in mathematics?
  2. It was when I was in Grade 9. I became excited by the beauty of mathematics after reading an arithmetic book that my father bought for me.

  3. Last year, you won the Ramanujan Prize for Young Mathematicians from Developing Countries for your contributions to the field of complex analysis, specifically the pluripotential theory. Can you explain in layman’s terms what your research was about?
  4. My general field of study is complex analysis, which investigates the properties and functions of complex numbers. If you can recall, complex numbers are formed by combining real and imaginary numbers, or the square roots of negative numbers. Specifically, I examine holomorphic functions, which are functions defined using complex numbers that can be differentiated (that is, can be broken down into smaller parts, or derivatives).

    Right now, we’re focusing on understanding singularities—points at which mathematical objects like equations or surfaces become degenerate or cease to be well-behaved. In complex analysis, singularities help characterize the potential behaviors of these holomorphic functions and help in the construction of tools for studying abstract mathematical spaces known as complex manifolds.

  5. What are the potential applications of your research?
  6. Our results can be used to investigate new discoveries in complex analysis and geometry. Interestingly, despite its theoretical nature, complex analysis has been wielded to solve important problems in fields ranging from quantum physics to fluid mechanics and even image processing.

  7. The Ramanujan Prize was also awarded partly to recognize your crucial organizational role in advancing mathematics in Vietnam. Could you share with us some initiatives you’ve taken part of to promote mathematics?
  8. I have been teaching and researching at Hanoi National University of Education since 2004 and then at the Institute of Mathematics since 2015. Mathematics contributes to the development of education and science by teaching basic knowledge and mathematical thinking. During my teaching, I try to prepare the best lectures possible to show my students mathematical principles and applications. I also often look out for young students with mathematical ability, and try to foster in them a deeper knowledge of mathematics by providing in-depth study materials, conveying passion for the field and introducing these students to study and research programs with professors at high-quality universities around the world.

    Professor Pham Hoang Hiep and his students at a mathematics seminar in 2020. Photo credit: Pham Hoang Hiep

  9. What is the importance of learning mathematics?
  10. Science is a system of rules and principles used by humans to predict the processes of the natural and social world. To accurately and quantitatively predict these processes, it is necessary to use mathematics as a language, method and tool. Therefore, learning mathematics allows us to understand the beauty of science and to use mathematical knowledge as a language, method or even a tool in other scientific fields and real-life problems.

  11. What else do you think can be done to encourage greater interest in mathematics, especially among the youth?
  12. We need to build a program that tackles the meaning and relationship of mathematics with reality in an intuitive and easy-to-understand way so that people can see the beauty and easily explain relevance of mathematics in everyday life. We also need to develop good quality training programs and scholarships for young people with talents in STEM.

  13. What would you like to achieve in your career in the next 10 years?
  14. For the next 10 years, I would like to continue engaging in research that solves open questions in complex analysis. At the same time, I’d also like to discover and mentor more young people with a passion for mathematics. I hope that together with other scientists, we can all collectively contribute to the development of science and education in Vietnam.

  15. In Vietnam, you are widely known for being one of its youngest, yet most productive professors. For those wishing to follow in your footsteps, what lessons can you impart?
  16. I can only impart that passion and self-confidence, as well as studying scientific books, actively partaking in research and focusing on work will make you succeed in science.

This article is from a monthly series called Asia’s Scientific Trailblazers. Click here to read other articles in the series.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Pham Hoang Hiep.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

A molecular biologist by training, Kami Navarro left the sterile walls of the laboratory to pursue a Master of Science Communication from the Australian National University. Kami is the former science editor at Asian Scientist Magazine.

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