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TWAS Newsletter
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Palis wins "Spirit of Salam" award

Palis wins "Spirit of Salam" award

Jacob Palis, the Brazilian mathematician, has spoken often of the influence TWAS founder Abdus Salam had on his work. Now Palis has won a prestigious international honour named for the famed physicist.

Brazilian mathematician Jacob Palis, the former TWAS president and an inspiring advocate for science in the developing world, has won the "Spirit of Abdus Salam Award" from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP).

ICTP Director Fernando Quevedo said Palis was honoured "for his extraordinary contribution to the cause of science worldwide, as a renowned mathematician, a mentor of young researchers, a leader in key international organizations, and an indefatigable promoter of scientific advancement, especially in the developing world".

The award was issued 29 August in a ceremony at ICTP in Trieste, Italy. Palis is recovering from a recent surgery, but appeared by video from his hospital bed to express appreciation for the honour. His former student, ICTP mathematician and research scientist Stefano Luzzatto, read a statement on his behalf.

"It is a great honour for me to receive the outstanding 2019 Spirit of Abdus Salam scientific award," Palis said in the statement. "It is one of the most special moments of my scientific life to have such a great honour bestowed on me."

Palis served on the ICTP Scientific Council beginning in the early 1990s, and from 2003 to 2005 as the Council's chairman. He was secretary-general of TWAS from 2001 to 2006, and was subsequently elected to two terms as TWAS president, serving from 2007 through 2012. He also served as president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences from 2007 to 2016.

In addition, Palis served as president of the International Mathematical Union from 1999 to 2002. From 1993 to 2003, he was director-general of Brazil's Instituto Nacional de Matemática Pura e Aplicada (IMPA – the National Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics).

In 2010, he was awarded the prestigious Balzan Prize for mathematics. TWAS honoured him with its 2015 Abdus Salam Medal for his years of leadership, research and teaching.  

When the ICTP "Spirit of Salam" award was first announced earlier this year, Salam's son, Ahmad Salam, said Palis embodied his father's values. "Jacob has continued to work tirelessly to further the aims and ideals that Abdus Salam laid out," said Ahmad Salam. "Jacob is fortunate in that he observed first-hand the spirit of Salam, and my father held him in high regard, choosing him to lead many initiatives."

Indeed, Palis has spoken often about the deep imprint that Salam had on his work and on his values. In a profile published in the TWAS Newsletter in 2013, at the end of his second term as TWAS president, Palis described meeting Salam shortly after he was elected a TWAS Fellow in 1991. Salam, he recalled, offered some deceptively simple advice:

“'My son, think big!'”

“I was privileged to hear that from him,” Palis said in the interview. “And I was not the only one – other friends had the same experience. He put in our heads the idea of being ambitious to think of big, impossible dreams. How to open our own countries, our own institutions, to the world.”

Read the Brazilian Academy of Sciences report on Jacob Palis and the "Spirit of Abdus Salam Award" (in Portuguese).

Edward Lempinen

[The ICTP Public Information Office contributed to this report.]