Steve Smale - A Mathematician not afraid to voice his political opinions

Steve Smale nearly missed his mathematics career as he initially performed poorly in his first years at the University of Michigan. He got a wake-up call when the department chair threatened to kick him out. He began his career as an instructor at the University of Chicago. In 1958, he astounded the mathematical world with a proof of a sphere eversion. In 1961 Smale cemented his reputation proving the Poincaré conjecture for all dimensions greater than or equal to 5.

After having made great strides in topology, he turned to the study of dynamical systems, where he made significant advances as well. His first contribution is the Smale horseshoe that ignited significant research in dynamical systems.

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He has been politically active in various areas, such as the Free Speech and the movement against the Vietnam War.

In 1966, he was in Moscow to receive the Fields Medal at the International Congress of Mathematicians. On the day of the Fields Medal ceremony, Smale held a press conference in which he condemned the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War and compared it to the Soviet invasion of Hungary, managing to criticize both America and the Soviet Union.

The speech did not please either side. In a Cold War-style event, Smale was abruptly taken by Soviet agents for a car ride for a “talk” – he says he was treated with courtesy. He eventually arrived at the end of the ceremony, just in time to collect his medal. In the midst of the Cold War, the story was a headline in The New York Times.

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