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Harbor Dreams and Forge Ahead— an Interview of Liu Ruochuan

AUG . 28 2017
Peking University, Aug. 15, 2017: There should be a pursuit in life saturated with an enthusiasm that never languishes; there should be an aspiration in career that is grand enough to create the future. In life’s vicissitudes, a man harboring dreams can always achieve excellence in ups and downs. A man in his 30s, marking the road to growth with his adventurous stories and memorable deeds, realizing his value of life after a string of solid footsteps—he is Liu Ruochuan, an associate professor of Beijing International Center for Mathematical Research, Peking University. 

Liu Ruochuan, the 40th International Mathematics Olympiad gold medalist, graduated from the School of Mathematical Sciences, Peking University, gained his doctorate at Massachusetts Inst Tech USA (MIT), and his post doctorate at Paris Diderot University-Paris 7. He has also had academic visits at McGill University and other renowned research institutes, and has published theses on prestigious academic journals such as Annales Scientifiques de l'E.N.S, Inventiones mathematicae . Moreover, he is selected as a member of the “Youth Talents” project launched by CPC's Organization Department and now works as a distinguished research fellow in Beijing International Center for Mathematical Research, Peking University.

Associate Professor Liu Ruochuan

Chasing dreams with incessant zeal

For Liu, on the endless path of exploring mathematics, competing in the Mathematical Olympiads was the very beginning. “Falling in love with mathematics while studying it was a natural thing. If a reason must be stated, it would be interest.” Cultivated in the process of learning and reinforced because of adeptness, interest strengthens the indissoluble bond between Liu and mathematics.

In 1999, Liu won the gold medal in the 40th International Mathematics Olympiad and got admitted by the School of Mathematical Sciences, Peking University. In 5 years, by virtue of his extraordinary aptitude, Liu finished all the required courses for a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree 2 years before his peers did. “I cherish the good old days studying at PKU, whose free, open and comprehensive atmosphere influences my whole life.” Says Liu,  “When I had enough credits and comepleted all the courses, I was permitted to graduate 2 years in advance, which was nearly impossible in other universities. Because of PKU, I was granted more time to occupy myself in the fields that really interested me, and thanks to my academic experiences at PKU, I could gain access to MIT to go on studying and forge ahead.”

To teach is to learn and to suffer is to enjoy

Many people helped and influenced Liu while he trudged on the road in pursuit of mathematics. “When I was a student, the person who influenced me most was Xu Chenyang. Though we did not live in the same dorm, we went to classes, ate and studied together, during which bunches of questions were discussed. In the course of discussion and communication, I discovered different modes of thinking and learned to employ different methods to ponder on questions, which influenced me profoundly.” Now Xu Chenyang also works at Beijing International Center for Mathematical Research, Peking University, and has become a young professor after making remarkable achievements in academic and scientific studies. Great appreciation and admiration were manifested when Liu mentioned his old friend. Perhaps it is this kind of communication and company between friends that make each other more adherent to their academic pursuits.

Professor Tian Gang, vice president of Peking University, dean of the School of Mathematical Sciences, Peking University, and director of Beijing International Center for Mathematical Research, has also left a deep impact on Liu. “Professor Tian was my Master Tutor, his rigorous attitude towards scholarship, his profundity in academic researches, along with other merits, set up great exemplars for me to learn from.” When speaking of his teacher, Liu seemed rather excited, “Tian not only helped me a great deal in scholarship, but cared much about my growth as an individual as well. No matter how busy he was, how onerous the tasks were, he would hold regular meetings to know about the state of our study life, and give us guidance and inspiration on thinking and on life. In particular, I appreciate Tian’s help in the period of my selecting of doctoral schools, for he gave me much salutary advice and recommended me to eminent scholars overseas, and I owe the opportunity to study in MIT much to Tian’s efforts.”

His tutor in MIT Kedlaya is another irreplaceable person in Liu’s life as a student. It was under Kedlaya’s guidance that Liu fixed his research orientation to p-adic Hodge theory, which he persisted in exploring. “Everyone’s research orientation is dependent on diverse factors. Since I am fairly interested in arithmetic geometry and algebraic number theory, and Kedlaya’s research fields fits my interest, I selected p-adic Hodge theory as the inception of my research.”

At present, Liu has undertaken to instruct his own students, much to his joy. “Engaging myself in scholarship and scientific research is what I take great pleasure in, but it’s far more important to impart what I’ve learned to my students and let more people discover and appreciate the beauty of mathematics.”

Delving in scientific researches as lifelong adherence

Liu deems it a natural thing for him to embark on the academic road, rather than out of particular reasons. “At first I got attracted by math just like others did by novels or sports; here lies my interest, thus I’d love to carry on this work. Secondly, it’s not out of a whimsical fervor that I gain the momentum to carry on.” Liu truly enjoys delving himself in scientific researches. When working as a Doctor, Liu carried on the research on p-adic Hodge theory, and after persistent exploration and accumulation, he stood himself out by making a series of breakthroughs in p-adic Hodge theory, p-adic automorphic forms and p-adic Langlands program. According to Christophe Breuil, in the domain of p-adic Hodge theory, Liu amounts to one of the best world-class expert.

In recent years, Liu has gradually expanded his research fields: he set out to do researches about modular form and relevant respects, and has made plentiful and substantial achievements. Just recently, the thesis Rigidity and a Riemann–Hilbert correspondence for p-adic local systems co-written by Liu and collaborators was accepted and issued online by the world's top math journal Inventiones Mathematicae. This journal is among the most authoritative in the international mathematical world, and is considered as the world's top math journals together with Annals of Mathematics、Acta Mathematica、Journal of the American Mathematical Society. Liu is quite confident in his research field, “This field is in the booming developing phase, and has enormous room for further development, it’s golden time will last for at least 5 to 10 years.”

No regret nor remorse

“Many people think it dull to be engaged in scientific studies, yet for me, I never regret.” Liu said passionately, “Life is imperfect, in the long run, nobody suffers loses. Life is rather parabolic than linear, it has peaks as well as troughs; yet for most scholars, seldom do they conduct business smoothly, but if they possess ability and perseverance, opportunities are sure to befall him. What we should do is to perfect ourselves and capture the opportunity.”

“Many people asked me why I came back considering years of oversea experiences with certain achievements, but for me, I never regret about returning to my motherland.” Says Liu, “The domestic research environment is getting better. In recent years the nation has attached great importance to the construction of basic disciplines, and the school has given great consideration and assistance to young scholars in respects of corresponding policies. A great platform has been established here for scholars where they can do academic studies single-mindedly.” “Besides, doing academic studies is my favorite—imparting knowledge and cultivating students, especially Chinese students, renders me additional satisfaction, which makes me more pleased. Having chosen my favorite occupation in hope of adhering to it during my entire life, I shall never regret.”

Liu is doing what he loves; therefore, either pursuing in the academic ocean or teaching in the classroom is to his joy.

Written by: Wei Yunqi
Edited by: Xu Penghang