Hélène Esnault is a professor for Algebra and Number Theory at the Departement of Arithmetic Geometry of the Freie Universität Berlin. During the last years more and more mathematicians used new methods leaving traditional fields of mathematics behind in order to obtain new findings. With her research Hélène Esnault actively promotes this approach within Diophantine mathematics.
Please close your eyes for a moment and think about your research project. What do you see at first?
Actually, I have no concept of a ‘workplace’ as such; rather working materials, which I can use anywhere: a laptop, books, paper and pen.
What kind of interview question would you like to be asked?
Mathematics: Is it science, or philosophy, or poetry, art or music?
Please name three things that you spontaneously connect to Albert Einstein!
I live 200 meters from his former Berlin apartment! Otherwise, it’s more a case of the radical differences between us: I didn’t have to flee Nazi-Germany, and I certainly didn’t come up with the theory of relativity!
What do you do first thing in the morning when you arrive at your workplace, and why?
I open the window and switch on the computer.
What would your research project look like if it was a piece of art?
An abstract oil painting made of thin strokes and clear lines.
To your opinion, what are the three most meaningful inventions of mankind?
I am not sure. Probably the written word and numbers.
Who or what inspires you at work?
I find other people’s ideas a constant source of inspiration; Pierre Deligne played an enormous role in my field, and as for the way in which we organise our thought processes today, that would have to be Alexander Grothendieck.
Which district in Berlin do you like the most, and why?
Oh, everywhere; Berlin is just wonderful. I know Schöneberg best, and feel home there.
What characteristics distinguish researchers from other people?
I think researchers are just as diverse as any other group of people. There’s no difference between them and the rest of the population.
With whom would you like to exchange your workplace for one day, and what would you do then?
Obviously you’d always love to be able to talk to figures from the past. But you can do that in your head, too. Thoughts are the best way of getting close to someone.