Dusa McDuff

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Dusa McDuff FRS (born 18 October 1945) is an English mathematician, known for her research on symplectic geometry.


  • The past few years have seen several exciting developments in the field of symplectic geometry, and a beginning has been made towards solving many important and hitherto inaccessible problems. The new techniques which have made this possible have come both from the calculus of variations and from the theory of elliptic partial differential operators. This paper describes some of the results that Gromov obtained using elliptic methods, and then shows how Floer applied these elliptic techniques to develop a new approach to Morse theory, which has important applications in the theory of 3- and 4-manifolds as well as in symplectic geometry.
  • Symplectic geometry is the geometry of a closed skew-symmetric form. It turns out to be very different from the Riemannian geometry with which we are familiar. One important difference is that, although all its concepts are initially expressed in the smooth category (for example, in terms of differential forms), in some intrinsic way they do not involve derivatives. Thus symplectic geometry is essentially topological in nature. Indeed, one often talks about symplectic topology. Another important feature is that it is a 2-dimensional geometry that measures the area of complex curves instead of the length of real curves.
  • Over the past 15 years symplectic geometry has developed its own identity, and can now stand alongside traditional Riemannian geometry as a rich and meaningful part of mathematics. The basic definitions are very natural from a mathematical point of view: one studies the geometry of a skew-symmetric bilinear form ω rather than a symmetric one. However, this seemingly innocent change of symmetry has radical effects. For example, one dimensional measurements vanish since ω(v, v) = −ω(v, v) by skew-symmetry. ...
    The theory has two faces. There are two kinds of geometric subobjects in a symplectic manifolds, hypersurfaces and Lagrangian submanifolds that appear in dynamical constructions, and even-dimensional symplectic submanifolds that are closely related to Riemannian and complex geometry. As we shall see, the analog of a geodesic in a symplectic manifold is a two-dimensional surface called a J-holomorphic curve.
  • ... Gelfand amazed me by talking of mathematics as if it were poetry. He tried to explain to me what von Neumann had been trying to do and what the ideas were behind his work. That was a revelation for me — that one could talk about mathematics that way. It is not just some abstract and beautiful construction but is driven by the attempt to understand certain basic phenomena that one tries to capture in some idea or theory. If you can’t quite express it one way, you try another. If that doesn’t quite work, you try to get further by some completely different approach. There is a whole undercurrent of ideas and questions.
    • "Interview with Dusa McDuff". Fascinating mathematical people: Interviews and memoirs. Princeton University Press. 2011. pp. 215–239.  (edited by Donald J. Albers and Gerald L. Alexanderson)

My Life (1998)[edit]

  • On two different occasions recently, (male) mathematicians asked me in all innocence: But you surely never suffered any discrimination?
    • (September 1998)"My life". Notices of the AMS 64 (8): 892–886. (quote from p. 892)
  • Was I ever discriminated against? There are two kinds of discrimination: explicit and implicit. For the most part, explicit discrimination did not affect me much. However, in retrospect, implicit discrimination—for example, the fact that I was so isolated as a postdoc because I could not share in college life—as well as my own internalized misogyny, did have a significant effect, though I hardly noticed this at the time. Another important factor, and one that I was aware of, was pervasive but not overt: it was very rare that women became professional scientists in Britain at the time, largely because science (and particularly “hard” as opposed to “life” science) was considered such a very unfeminine thing to do. ... These days, when most of the obvious barriers to women’s participation in mathematics have been removed, there still remain very strong and insidious internal barriers, shown in such phenomena as stereotype threat or imposter syndrome. The prejudices that lead to people accepting as completely normal that women should not get degrees at Cambridge (they first could get Cambridge degrees in 1948) are very strong and do not disappear immediately when the external barrier is removed. ...
    In the 1960s there were, of course, very visible manifestations of the idea that academic life is not for women. At the time, most Ivy League universities in the States did not admit women, and in Britain almost all the colleges at the most prestigious universities (Oxford and Cambridge) were single sex.
    • quote from p. 895

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